Baltimore Ravens: Lorenzo Taliaferro
The Ravens have placed 19 players on IR, which was the seventh-most in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information's MC Barrett. The New York Giants led the NFL with 26 players on IR.
Injuries typically derail a team's season. In fact, only three of the eight teams that had 19 players or more on injured reserve made the playoffs in 2014 (the Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys).
CB Asa Jackson (knee): He just can't stay healthy. Jackson suffered three injuries that sidelined him this season, which makes it hard for the Ravens to depend on him going forward. He does have potential as a No. 3 or No. 4 corner.
TE Dennis Pitta (hip): Two hip injuries have limited him to seven games in two seasons. The Ravens are still waiting to hear whether Pitta will play this season.
CB Jimmy Smith (foot): No injury hurt the Ravens more than this one. The Ravens allowed seven touchdown passes with Smith. They gave up 15 touchdown passes without Smith, their best player at their most vulnerable position.
OT Rick Wagner (foot): He was one of the bigger surprises of the season. In his first-year as a starter, Wagner was the second highest-graded right tackle by Pro Football Focus.
ROOKIE DRAFT PICKS
S Terrence Brooks (knee): The third-round pick had an up-and-down rookie season because it took longer than expected for him to learn the defense. Brooks never developed into a starter but he showed promise at times.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot): The fourth-round pick was underutilized this season, and the Ravens could've used him toward the end of the season when Justin Forsett wasn't as explosive. He ranked fourth among rookie running backs with a 4.2-yard per carry average.
DE Brent Urban (knee): The fourth-round pick had a shot at being the top backup to Chris Canty, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on July 30. He'll likely be among those competing for the starting defensive end job if Canty is a salary-cap casualty.
DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle): Claimed off waivers after the Bengals cut him, Bilukidi played a total of 47 snaps in four games before being put on IR.
LB Arthur Brown (hamstring): The team's second-round pick in 2013 has been slow to develop. Brown was only active for four games and didn't play a down on defense.
WR Jeremy Butler (shoulder): He's an undrafted rookie who stood out in the spring offseason workouts but faded in training camp. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has brought up his name a couple of times this offseason when talking about the team's depth at wide receiver.
LS Morgan Cox (knee): He's highly regarded by the organization, but his value actually increased after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury midway through the season. Cox's replacements, Kevin McDermott and Patrick Scales, both struggled at times, putting more emphasis on re-signing their long-snapper of the past five seasons.
CB Danny Gorrer (knee): He was signed midway through the season after being waived by the Detroit Lions. Gorrer was expected to upgrade the cornerback position but he lasted four games before suffering a season-ending injury.
CB Tramain Jacobs (hamstring): The Ravens promoted the undrafted rookie from the practice squad in Week 10 because he provided more upside than Chykie Brown. But Jacobs went down after three games.
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles): An injury sidelined the former sixth-round pick for a second straight season. Lewis-Moore was placed on injured reserve during training camp after being earmarked as the top backup to Canty in 2014.
LS Kevin McDermott (elbow): He had some shaky moments in his seven games as the replacement for Cox. A high snap disrupted the timing of a field goal in Week 15, his last game with the Ravens.
G Will Rackley (concussion): He lasted only one week in Ravens' training camp in 2014 before getting sidelined the rest of the year with a concussion.
OT Jah Reid (hand): The former third-round pick played a career-low four games and 10 snaps in 2014.
TE Konrad Reuland (foot): He played 26 games for the New York Jets in 2012 and 2013, including three starts. Reuland was signed to the Ravens' practice squad in November but ended the season on IR.
CB Aaron Ross (Achilles): He spent most of the past two seasons on injured reserve. In 2014, Ross tore his Achilles' tendon during the Ravens' conditioning test for training camp and never played a game.
@jamisonhensley: If the Ravens had their way, they would get extensions completed with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and guard Marshal Yanda. The more likely one? That would be Ngata. It's based more on the situation. Ngata's salary-cap number is $16 million, the largest on the team. It's clear that he won't play under that contract. The Ravens need to get an extension with Ngata to lower that cap number or they'll be forced to release him. There's more of an urgency with Ngata. That said, I believe an extension with Yanda is a no-brainer. He can make more money this year, and the Ravens keep one of the NFL's best linemen for another three to four years. But Yanda's cap number is $8.45 million, so an extension is not a necessity. It would be a great bonus, though.
@jamisonhensley Who is more likely to be extended: Ngata or Yanda?— Preston Donakowski (@Preston_D) February 11, 2015
@jamisonhensley: To start, this would be a dream situation for the Ravens at No. 26. They could choose between a top cornerback (Washington's Marcus Peters), two playmaking receivers (Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham and Arizona State's Jaelen Strong) and the No. 1 running back (Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon). I would take Peters because he's the best all-around cornerback and fills a major need. This can only happen if the Ravens are comfortable with his behavioral issues. He got kicked off the team at Washington and coachability is a major concern. But if there wasn't a red flag for character, Peters wouldn't be available at No. 26. His raw talent is too good to pass up.
@jamisonhensley J. Strong, Gordon, DGB, and Peters are available at 26.. Who would you take? Didn't resign Torrey or Forsett to make it fair— Kyle Morris (@K_MO_13) February 11, 2015
@jamisonhensley: Not really. The Ravens typically don't pursue unrestricted free agents because they count against their compensatory picks for the next year's draft. If they sign a veteran, it's usually someone who gets cut for salary-cap reasons. Raiders safety Tyvon Branch could be a casualty this offseason. As far as Rahim Moore, he's an above-average safety who will likely be overpaid because a team is desperate to fill a need. The Ravens don't have a history of splurging in free agency and they can't afford another misstep at that position. Even though Moore likely won't end up with the Ravens, they will always have the Mile High Miracle to remember.
@jamisonhensley If the Ravens acquire the cap space, do you see the Ravens making a play at Rahim Moore to pair with Will Hill?— Jake Miller (@xRAABOOSHAx) February 11, 2015
@jamisonhensley: Both cornerback and wide receiver are major needs for the Ravens. This could change depending on what the Ravens do with wide receiver Torrey Smith in free agency and how they address cornerback Lardarius Webb's bloated $8 million base salary. Offensive tackle isn't a need. The Ravens return their top three tackles from last season in Eugene Monroe, James Hurst and Rick Wagner. Even though Wagner had foot surgery at the end of the season, he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. In regard to tight end Dennis Pitta, coach John Harbaugh didn't provide any update on his progress last month. I still believe his status is up in the air.
@jamisonhensley - biggest need in your opinion & why between DB, WR, & OT? Is Pitta on track to come back and return to form?— Zane Fulp (@HeyYOitsZ) February 11, 2015
@jamisonhensley: Very good. I don't expect the Ravens to re-sign Taylor, and I don't expect the Ravens to hand the backup job to Keith Wenning, a sixth-round pick from a year ago who spent last season on the practice squad. The Ravens' best option is Josh McCown. He was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, and he might want to reunite with Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who was McCown's coach in Chicago. Even if the Ravens don't bring in McCown, they will need someone to compete with Wenning. Lower-level quarterbacks who are available on the cheap are Jimmy Clausen (Trestman's backup in Chicago last season), Colt McCoy and Matt Flynn. The Ravens will also see which backup quarterbacks are released over the next couple of weeks.
@jamisonhensley What are the chances of bringing in a veteran backup QB, with Tyrod Taylor hitting the market and Wenning unproven?— Matt Hurd (@hurd_matt) February 11, 2015
@jamisonhensley: The easy pick is Wagner, who was a starter for 15 games at right tackle before suffering a season-ending foot injury. If you're looking beyond Wagner, the two injured-reserve players to watch in 2015 are running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and defensive end Brent Urban. Taliaferro should get increased playing time because Justin Forsett isn't a lock to be re-signed in free agency and Bernard Pierce might not be on the team by the start of the regular season. A fourth-round pick from a year ago, Taliaferro can have an important role in short yardage and in the red zone. Another player from last year's rookie class who ended up on IR is Urban. A fourth-round pick like Taliaferro, Urban could become a starter in 2015. If the Ravens cut Chris Canty to free cap space, Urban would compete with Kapron Lewis-Moore, Lawrence Guy (if he's re-signed) and DeAngelo Tyson for that defensive end spot. Remember to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
@jamisonhensley the player on injured reserve not named Smith or Pitta that will have the biggest impact on the Ravens 2015 season will be?— Todd (@bmoretodd) February 11, 2015
Kyle Juszczyk: 438 snaps (42.8 percent)
Bernard Pierce: 150 snaps (14.6 percent)
Lorenzo Taliaferro: 130 snaps (12.7 percent)
Fitzgerald Toussaint: 23 snaps (2.2 percent)
Forsett carried the workload in his first season as the primary ballcarrier. He took over the starting job by Week 3 after Ray Rice was abruptly released and Pierce struggled with a thigh injury. Forrest's 671 snaps ranked No. 6 among NFL running backs (Matt Forte led the league with 923 snaps). In comparison, Rice totaled 675 plays in 2013.
The Ravens' backup running back spot was split between Pierce and Taliaferro. In all likelihood, Taliaferro would've ended up with the second-most snaps among Ravens' tailbacks if he hadn't suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 14. His 130 snaps ranked No. 18 among rookie running backs in 2014. Pierce's playing time has dipped along with his effectiveness. He played 233 fewer snaps in 2014, and he was passed by undrafted rookie Toussaint by the end of the season
Juszczyk watched his playing time jump significantly. After the Ravens re-signed Vonta Leach last season, Juszczyk was only on the field for three plays in 2013. A year later, only San Francisco's Bruce Miller had more snaps at fullback than Juszczyk.
That increases the Ravens' total number of players on IR to 16. This is the most players the Ravens have placed on IR since 2008, when they had 19 players on the list in coach John Harbaugh's first season. The Ravens had only six players on IR last season.
The Ravens filled two of the roster spots by signing defensive tackle Casey Walker off the New England Patriots' practice squad and promoting offensive lineman Ryan Jensen from their own practice squad. Walker, 25, played in five games for the Patriots this season, including one start, before being waived after the team signed running back LeGarrette Blount. Jensen, a sixth-round pick by the Ravens in 2013, spent all of last season on the Ravens' 53-man roster and was on their practice squad this season.
There is one spot left on the Ravens' 53-man roster. It could be filled by a defensive back.
Jackson was the only starter placed on injured reserve Monday. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in just his second game back after being activated off short-term injured reserve with a sprained toe. The Ravens could replace him in the starting lineup with Rashaan Melvin, who has no career starts; Anthony Levine, a converted safety; or Antoine Cason, who is in his second week with the Ravens after being cut by Carolina.
Taliaferro and Brooks are two rookie draft picks. Taliaferro, a fourth-round selection, is a key loss because he had regained the primary backup role behind Justin Forsett. He gained 292 yards rushing (averaging 4.3 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns. Bernard Pierce will take over as the No. 2 running back.
Brooks, a third-round pick, sustained a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff Sunday. It came at a time when his snaps had decreased. He was benched two weeks ago after giving up a touchdown in New Orleans and was inactive the previous week.
Smith, the only starter listed on the injury report, is dealing with a right knee injury that limited him to 15 snaps Sunday. If Smith can't play Sunday against Jacksonville, the Ravens would likely turn to Kamar Aiken, who has never started an NFL game.
Taliaferro, a rookie fourth-round pick, was injured in Sunday's win at Miami. He has played in every game this season, running for 292 yards and four touchdowns. He also has four special teams tackles.
If Taliaferro is sidelined, it would leave the Ravens with two healthy backs, Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce. The Ravens may promote Fitzgerald Toussaint from the practice squad to add depth.
Gillmore, the backup to Owen Daniels, missed his first game of the season last Sunday because of a back injury. If he is out for a second straight game, the Ravens will continue to use Phillip Supernaw, who had a 29-yard reception last game.
The only other injured Ravens player is cornerback Anthony Levine, who was limited after suffering a concussion.
Smith hasn't missed a game in his four-year NFL career. His streak of 61 games played is the third-longest active streak on the Ravens.
Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro also didn't practice because of a "foot and ankle injury," according to Harbaugh. Taliaferro had just taken back the No. 2 running back spot Sunday before getting injured.
Tight end Crockett Gillmore was present at practice but wasn't suited up. Gillmore missed Sunday's game with a back injury.
Why did the Ravens struggle against the No. 26 red zone defense?
One option to improve running the ball in the red zone is giving it to your biggest back who can move the pile. That would mean increased carries closer to the goal line for rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, who has scored four touchdowns on 14 red zone carries.
But Taliaferro hasn't been used as much since fumbling in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. From Week 3 to Week 7, he averaged eight carries. Since that turnover, Taliaferro has run the ball a total of three times in the last three games, including no carries the past two weeks.
Bernard Pierce has taken over the role of the No. 2 back, which raises the question of whether Taliaferro will get any carries in the final month of the season.
"You’ll see Lorenzo without question," coach John Harbaugh said. "There's no punishment going on there. I just think it has been Justin [Forsett] has been playing so well. But Lorenzo has to be there for us, especially down the stretch here.”
No other group of rookies have been on the field more than this year's one. Seven first-year players have logged at least 95 snaps this season. How special is that? The previous six rookie classes have never had more than four players contribute that much for an entire season, much less the first 10 games of a season like these current rookies.
Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is the leading candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year, and Timmy Jernigan is a big part of the defensive line rotation. Crockett Gillmore is the team's No. 2 tight end, safety Terrence Brooks is getting more playing time in passing situations and Lorenzo Taliaferro has been the backup running back for most of the year. Offensive tackle James Hurst and guard John Urschel formed the left side of the Ravens' line for two games.
But no recent Ravens rookie group has been as deep as this year's one.
"This year probably has been one of our best years," coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s a good group of young guys. They‘re very motivated. They work really hard. They love football. I don’t see their heads in a lot of different places. I see them thinking about football every single day, and those are the kind of guys you want to bring in.”
Here's a look at this year's rookie class player by player:
ILB C.J. Mosley (first round): His 90 tackles rank fourth in the NFL and are 22 more than any other rookie in the NFL. Mosley has a great chance to become the Ravens' first NFL defensive rookie of the year since Terrell Suggs in 2003.
DT Timmy Jernigan (second round): His ability to disrupt goes beyond his 11 tackles and one sack. Jernigan is the second highest-rated rookie defensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
CB Terrence Brooks (third round): It's been an up-and-down rookie season. Brooks' best play was his knockout hit of Titans tight end Delanie Walker last Sunday. His worst came last month when he gave up a 53-yard reception to Mohamed Sanu on third down, which led to Cincinnati's winning touchdown.
TE Crockett Gillmore (third round): He's the 13th-best run blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus. His six receptions rank fifth among rookie tight ends.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round): After losing a critical fumble in Pittsburgh, Taliaferro dropped behind Bernard Pierce on the depth chart last Sunday. His 257 yards rushing rank ninth among rookies and his four touchdowns are tied for third.
G John Urschel (fifth round): He started two games at left guard in October (both wins), moving ahead of Gino Gradkowski on the depth chart. Urschel also played one snap at center last Sunday when Jeremy Zuttah left briefly with an injury.
WR Michael Campanaro (seventh round): He was starting to find his niche as the team's slot receiver, recording a season-high 40 yards receiving at Cincinnati. But a hamstring injury has sidelined him the past two games.
OT James Hurst (undrafted): He became the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Michael Oher in 2009. Hurst struggled in his four starts, committing four penalties and giving up three sacks. Still, this was a lot to ask of an undrafted rookie.
ILB Zachary Orr (undrafted): He's primarily a special teams player who has played in all but one game. Three penalties in four games led to him sitting one week.
NOTE: DE Brent Urban (fourth round) is on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, and QB Keith Wenning (sixth round) is on the practice squad.
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field:
What it means: The Ravens (5-4) have gone from the top of the division to the bottom of it with two losses. This marks the first time since 2005, when they finished 6-10, that the Ravens are in last place in the AFC North nine weeks into a season. The Ravens have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and drop to 2-3 in the division. The 43 points are the most allowed by the Ravens since the 2013 season opener, when they gave up 49 to Peyton Manning.
Turnover trouble: The Ravens lost control of the game because they couldn't hold onto the ball. Two turnovers led to 14 points in a momentum-shifting second quarter. Lorenzo Taliaferro's fumble was converted into a 5-yard touchdown pass to Le'Veon Bell, and Joe Flacco's interception turned into 19-yard touchdown for Martavis Bryant. In the past two games, four Ravens turnovers have been converted into 24 points.
Stock watch: Falling: Ravens' secondary. It was bad timing for the Ravens to lose their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, for their game against the Steelers. The Ravens, who had allowed a league-low seven touchdown passes in their first eight games, gave up six to Ben Roethlisberger in one game. Those six surpassed Roethlisberger's total in his previous five meetings with Baltimore (five touchdowns). The Ravens allowed touchdown passes of 5, 19, 47, 54, 18 and 33 yards.
Penalty problems: The Ravens were flagged 10 times for 108 yards, which was a season worst. While the Ravens will argue there were questionable penalties, they committed too many unnecessary fouls after the whistle. There was even one play in the second quarter in which the Ravens were called for three penalties.
Under pressure: Joe Flacco rarely had time to set up and throw. He was sacked four times and got hit a total of eight times. James Harrison looked like James Harrison from five years ago, and left tackle Eugene Monroe couldn't slow down Harrison, who recorded two sacks and three hits on Flacco.
Game ball: Jacoby Jones. In what has been a nightmare season, Jones provided the only spark in the second half with a 108-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. He now has three 108-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career (two in the regular season and one in the Super Bowl). Jones' 25-yard punt return in the first quarter set up the Ravens' only offensive touchdown of the game.
What's next: The Ravens return home to play their second game since Sept. 28 at M&T Bank Stadium. They face the Tennessee Titans (2-6), who are coming off a bye but have lost their past three road games by an average of 17.3 points.
@jamisonhensley: This is the biggest question on every Ravens fan's mind right now. With Jimmy Smith (foot) and Asa Jackson (toe) injured, the Ravens are down to three healthy cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb, Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown). This is not a good week to go against three Pittsburgh Steelers receivers who had at least 50 yards receiving and one touchdown last Sunday: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. So, how are the Ravens going to cover them? I'm not sure they can, at least not on a consistent basis. The best way for the Ravens to slow down the Steelers' passing game is getting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. When the Ravens beat the Steelers in Week 2, Courtney Upshaw crushed Roethlisberger -- it was the Ravens' best hit on Roethlisberger since Bart Scott -- and Roethlisberger wasn't the same after that. The Ravens need to have the same type of pass rush presence Sunday night.
@jamisonhensley how in the world are they going to cover the Steelers receivers?— Ravens Nest #3 (@RavensNest3) October 30, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Don't be surprised if running back Bernard Pierce is suited up Sunday after being inactive last game. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak acknowledged that he was sweating last week when the Ravens carried only two running backs against the Cincinnati Bengals. With a rivalry known for being hard hitting, the Ravens probably don't want to risk going with just Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro in Pittsburgh. That being said, Pierce is clearly the No. 3 running back on the depth chart. Forsett hasn't shown signs of wearing down, and Taliaferro scored two touchdowns in the red zone and added a 29-yard catch. The problem with Pierce is he doesn't have value as a special teams player or a pass blocker. His strength is running the ball, and he's averaged less than three yards per carry in three of his five games this season. That's why Forsett and Taliaferro will get nearly all of the carries going forward. Pierce is more of an insurance policy at this point.
@jamisonhensley With Pierce taking a back seat, will we continue to see Lorenzo get an increased workload or will Harbs give Pierce a shot?— Anthony Biedenkapp (@AntShaw) October 30, 2014
@jamisonhensley: That's a good observation. Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones have combined for 27 of Joe Flacco's 173 completions (15 percent). Last year, those three receivers were the Ravens' top three in receptions, totaling 151 of Flacco's 363 completions (42 percent). But I wouldn't put this on new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. The blame is on the players, and more specifically, their hands. Smith is dropping passes and not showing toughness going over the middle. Brown unofficially led the team in dropped passes in training camp and has struggled to get open in the regular season. And Jones is among the league leaders in dropped passes. Flacco is completing 45 percent (27 of 59) of his passes thrown to Smith, Brown and Jones. He is completing 66 percent of his throws (68 of 103) to Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. It's easy to see which receivers have earned the trust of Flacco.
@jamisonhensley: I wish there was a good answer for this. Will Hill went from 22 snaps in his first game back from suspension to 11 snaps last Sunday. One possibility is the Ravens playing more zone defense after cornerback Jimmy Smith went down with a foot injury. Another thought is the Ravens expected more runs from a Bengals team that was without A.J. Green. So, the Ravens went with their more hard-hitting safeties in Matt Elam and Darian Stewart. But there's no explanation on why the Ravens kept Elam on the field after he kept missing tackle after tackle. Will Hill hasn't been great in his limited snaps, but he's been solid. That's more than anyone can say about Elam and Stewart this season.
@jamisonhensley What do you make of the limited snaps for Will Hill as opposed to Matt Elam or Darian Stewart?— Edward Nieh (@ECNieh) October 30, 2014
The Ravens' rookies have played a total of 1,295 snaps in the first seven games of the season. That ranks as the eighth-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those seven teams ahead of the Ravens, only two (the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers) drafted after the Ravens in the 2014 draft.
Guard John Urschel (fifth round) has started the past two games in place of the injured Kelechi Osemele, and others have had their moments as well. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round) gained 91 yards rushing in Week 3, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (seventh round) scored a touchdown on his first career catch two weeks ago.
The only players from this year's draft class who haven't played a down for the Ravens are defensive end Brent Urban (fourth round), who is on injured reserve, and quarterback Keith Wenning (sixth round), who is on the practice squad.
It's not just the draft class that is making an impact. Two undrafted rookies -- offensive tackle James Hurst and linebacker Zachary Orr -- have stepped up for the Ravens, too.
Hurst became the first undrafted rookie to start at left tackle in Ravens history, filling in for the injured Eugene Monroe for the past four weeks. Orr has been one of the Ravens' core special-teams players. Of the Ravens' 18 special-teams tackles this season, seven have come from rookies. The Ravens have had an undrafted rookie make their season-opening roster in 11 consecutive years, which is tied for the third-longest current streak in the NFL.
In last Sunday's victory over the Atlanta Falcons, nine of the 46 players who suited up for the Ravens were rookies. In comparison, there were a combined nine players from the 2012 and 2013 draft classes who played last Sunday.
For the season, rookies have accounted for 12.9 percent of the snaps on offense and defense.
The Ravens' running back by committee is working. The Ravens rank No. 9 in the NFL with an average of 4.7 yards per carry, and they're doing it by being the only team with three backs who have over 30 carries.
Justin Forsett, who has started the past three games, is the leading rusher with 297 yards. But Harbaugh made a point to say that he wants more carries for Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro. You get the sense that Harbaugh liked what he saw out of Pierce, whose four runs went for 13, 12, 3 and 3 yards.
"We'll roll those guys in there," Harbaugh said. "I'd like to see Bernard get a few more snaps. I'd like to see Lorenzo get a few more snaps. It would sure help if we get a few more snaps. If we get more snaps, then everybody is going to get more chances. You earn the right to run more plays. We have to earn that right by executing."
The Ravens had a season-low 15 carries in Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Their plan was to start the game by throwing the ball, using screens and bootlegs to get the Colts' defense moving. The Ravens wanted to wear that defense down and then go back to the run. In the Ravens' eyes, there just weren't enough plays to do so.
"The biggest problem we had is not the number of runs or anything like that, it's not converting," Harbaugh said. "When you go 1-for-11 on third downs and turn the ball over, which is what we did in the first half, that combination means you don't get many plays."
The Ravens finished with 57 plays, which was four fewer than they've had in any game this season.
"It's kind of hard to get a lot of runs under your belt when you don't have many plays under your belt," Harbaugh said. "That's what we needed to do. We knew we needed to keep that defense on the field. The bottom line is we let them play the way they wanted to play. They kept on the field offensively and they got off the field defensively. That's the one thing we didn't want to have happen. We just weren't good enough to make it happen our way."
So, who should get the start Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts?
Pierce has shown flashes of being a legitimate starting running back in the league, but he has a history of being injury prone.
The other option is going with rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, who has more size than Forsett and more productive runs than Pierce. The Ravens typically don't rely on first-year runners, but Taliaferro has 149 yards rushing and two touchdowns in his past two games.
The Ravens really can't make a wrong call on any of these backs. It's the reason why the Ravens rank No. 9 in the NFL in rushing (134.5 yards per game). So, it's a good problem for the Ravens to have.
Who will it be Sunday against the Carolina Panthers?
Even the Ravens' running backs say they're in the dark when it comes to who is going to get the ball.
"[Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak] doesn't really tell us who's going to go in during the week," Taliaferro said. "In the game, whoever they call and put in, we're all [ready] to step out there and make sure we get the job done."
Kubiak is known for having two-back tandems, whether it's Arian Foster-Ben Tate in Houston or Mike Anderson-Tatum Bell (they each had more than 900 yards rushing in 2005) in Denver. He's outdone himself so far in his first season in Baltimore.
Through three games, the Ravens are the only team in the NFL to have three running backs with over 90 yards rushing. It has resulted in the NFL's No. 8 rushing attack without having one back among the top 12 leading rushers.
"They're all going to play," Kubiak said. "We're going to keep a fresh guy on the field -- that's what we're going to do -- and if we feel like one guy has the hot hand, so to speak, then obviously he's going to go back out. I want them all to prepare as if they're starting."
All three backs have their own strengths. Pierce runs in between the tackles, Forsett hits the edges and Taliaferro pushes piles as a physical downhill runner.
"Their running game is very dynamic," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "If you look at the Ravens, all three backs are similar, but they have their own different characteristic style of the way they run. We have to make sure we understand who the back is and then play from there."
Last season, the Ravens had their worst rushing attack in team history. They averaged 83 yards on the ground per game.
This year, the Ravens have been more productive despite cutting Ray Rice, the second-leading rusher in franchise history. They are averaging 137 yards per game -- a 61 percent increase from a season ago.
"I think our guys are running physical," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Our offensive line is getting better and better each week of getting guys down, playing physical, pushing them off the ball, creating the holes for those guys. So, I think we're getting better and better each week. I think [the running game] is here to stay, and it's here to get better. I think we're going to do nothing but improve on that front."
Three games into the season, the Ravens have watched three running backs not only lead the team in rushing but gain at least 70 yards in a game. The latest surprise came in Sunday's 23-21 win over the Cleveland Browns, where rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro ran for 91 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries.
Sure, trying to figure out the Ravens' featured back each week is a nightmare for fantasy owners. As far as the Ravens' needs, this has been the best-case scenario because all three running backs have been so productive.
The Ravens now have confidence that Pierce, Taliaferro or Justin Forsett can carry the load when called upon. They've seen it against the Bengals, Steelers and Browns.
In all likelihood, Pierce remains the Ravens' starter when he returns. But that doesn't mean he finishes the game for the Ravens.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh previously said he will go with the hotter back. And the hottest back on the field Sunday was Taliaferro. It makes you wonder why he didn't get a touch in the first two games.
"I think the results speak for themselves with Lorenzo," Harbaugh said. "He was running downhill, physical and was hard to tackle. That is an element that is a big plus for an offense."
The odds of the Ravens starting Taliaferro next week are not strong. The Ravens' history is not to put too much pressure on rookie running backs, although it's tempting to go with Taliaferro based on his decisiveness and ability to finish off runs.
A major reason why the Ravens will probably keep Pierce as the starter is he's bigger than Forsett and has more experience than Taliaferro. The downside is Pierce's injury-filled track record.
Harbaugh said he hopes Pierce's thigh injury is a short-term one.
"We thought we'd get him into the game, but it didn't work out," Harbaugh said. "We should have a good chance of getting him back next week."