Wednesday, August 20, 2014
What Ravens gain as NFL's rushing leaders
By Jamison Hensley
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have gone from the worst rushing team in franchise history to the NFL's top rushing team in the preseason.
Does this mean the Ravens' ground game is suddenly fixed? Are the Ravens going to be a top-10 rushing attack? Even coach John Harbaugh cautioned about jumping to such conclusions.
The Ravens have averaged an impressive 194 yards rushing -- 69 more than any other team in the league -- in what amounts to two meaningless games. What is real, however, is the Ravens' growing confidence.
Last season, the Ravens lost faith in their offensive line to open holes and their running backs to accelerate through them. It led to the Ravens running the pistol offense and spreading out teams with three wide receivers.
There is a different mindset this season. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak want this to be a run-first team again.
There is a different attitude so far this preseason. The offensive line, which has three different starters since the end of last season, has pushed defenders off the line. Running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are lighter and, as a result, more explosive.
"Obviously, with last year not running the ball as much -- and that being on the offensive line -- [it] is something that we take pride in," said left guard Kelechi Osemele, who missed the final seven games last season after having back surgery. "So if we can run the ball early this year, that should continue to build our confidence throughout the season.”
Skeptics will point to the fact that the Ravens gained all of these yards against a beat-up 49ers front and an unproven Cowboys defense. But the numbers are still gaudy when compared to how the Ravens struggled last season.
The Ravens have gained 388 yards rushing in two preseason games. It took the Ravens until the fifth regular-season game last season to produce that number of rushing yards.
The biggest difference from last season can be summed up on Rice's first carry in Dallas. The offensive line got the Cowboys' front moving too hard to the left side of the field, and Rice made one cut to go untouched for 18 yards. It's difficult to remember many runs last year when the backs broke the line of scrimmage without being hit.
It's not just Rice who's having success. Pierce is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro is leading the NFL in rushing with 130 yards.
"I feel good about the run game so far, and we temper it with the fact that it’s two games in the preseason, and what matters is what you do when it counts," Harbaugh said. "[There is] a long way to go to be where we need to be to have the kind of success that we’re hoping to have.”