Even with added air power, Ravens still run-based, backs say

'They are a running football team,' says former quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski

September 09, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The offensive makeover the Ravens underwent this past offseason yielded a pair of established wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth and the rookie tight end duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

But if you poll the team's stable of running backs, the Ravens are still a run-based offense.

"I still think it's a major part because if we don't establish the run, we'll never establish the passing game," tailback Willis McGahee said. "I don't care who we have out there, you need the running game to help out the passing game. And we need the passing game to help out the running game. So I think it's going to be a great situation."

Said fullback Le'Ron McClain: "I'm all for the passing game and scoring points, but I'm a run-mentality guy. But whatever [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron] says, we do it. Hopefully, we'll run the ball [to a ratio of] 80-to-20. You just don't know."

Yet it's hard to overlook the additions the organization made to give quarterback Joe Flacco more weapons. Boldin has been everything advertised, and before breaking his foot, which could keep him on the sideline until the team's bye week in late October, Stallworth demonstrated the downfield speed the passing game lacked.

Dickson and Pitta appear to be immediate contributors if starter Todd Heap gets hurt, and the continued presence of Derrick Mason, the recently added T.J. Houshmandzadeh and running back Ray Rice give Flacco and Cameron a plethora of weapons.

In the third game of the preseason — considered the most important dress rehearsal for the starters — Flacco completed 20 of 32 passes for 220 yards and threw touchdown passes to Boldin and Heap. Meanwhile, the offense gained 40yards on the ground, with Flacco leading the way with 16 yards.

Despite those developments, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said on a recent episode of "SportsCenter" that running the football will continue to be a priority for the Ravens.

"You can talk about Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin and their defense, [but] they are a running football team," Jaworski said. "That is their foundation with Ray Rice and that massive offensive line."

The numbers seem to back him up. Last season, the rushing offense ranked fifth in the league, while the passing attack ranked 18th. The team scored 22 touchdowns on the ground and 21 through the air.

The numbers were even starker during the Ravens' run to the playoffs. After a 6-6 record, the team averaged 160.2 rushing yards and 113.2 passing yards in the final four regular-season and two postseason contests. Over that same span, the offense scored 19 touchdowns, 12 of which came from the rushing game.

But the love affair between fans and the long ball grows, and the NFL has made it more difficult for defenses to hamper and obstruct receivers and tight ends.

From Wilbert Montgomery's perspective, passing the football in the NFL has become similar to kick-starting the fast break in basketball, and running the ball is akin to pulling up for the midrange jumper.

"It's easier to throw the ball and pick up a big chunk of yards than it is to turn around and hand the ball to a running back 20 or 30 times," acknowledged Montgomery, the Ravens' running backs coach. "And he may never get that big run in the game. You can throw 10 passes at a receiver and he drops nine of them, but they're going to remember the one that he caught and took the distance. The running back has to work extra hard with the offensive line to try to get it right. Between the six or seven guys that are blocking for you on that run, everything has to be right in order for you to hit the crease or hit the seam and make someone miss in the hole to get the long run."

But the relationship between the running and passing attacks is symbiotic, with both phases of the game making life easier — or more difficult — for the other.

"I think it's a balanced offense now," Rice said. "This offense is not going to be one-dimensional. The one thing I do know is Cam is a call-it-and-run-it guy. If it's 30 runs or 30 passes, he's very optimistic that it's going to work."

The ultimate objective, however, for everyone on that side of the football is to field an offense capable of making first downs and producing points. McClain said both facets of the offense will be necessary for that to happen.

"People love points," McClain said.

"They love for teams to run up the scoreboard and [score] over 40 points a game. I guess the passing game goes along with that, but I think you can get 35 points [per game] running the ball, too."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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