OWINGS MILLS – From the vantage point of his luxury suite, owner Steve Bisciotti had an excellent view to observe the Baltimore Ravens’ faltering running game.
And Bisciotti didn’t always like what he saw as the running backs were often stonewalled one year removed from a prolific rushing season.
Despite the presence of a former Pro Bowl running back in Ray Rice and a former Pro Bowl lead blocker in fullback Le’Ron McClain, the Ravens plummeted to 14th in the NFL in rushing offense as they averaged only 114.4 yards per contest.
"I really think we’ve got to get that running game going," Bisciotti said. "Maybe we took that for granted. When you’re getting 4.8 yards per carry, it’s the staple of your offense. It’s not a given.
"We have to go back to the drawing board. You can’t take what you’re good at for granted, and think you’re just going to build on that."
During the previous season, the Ravens ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing. They averaged 4.7 yards per carry. And this season they fell to fifth from the bottom of the league, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry.
Offensively, the Ravens fell from 13th in total offense to 22nd. And they only scored 22.3 points per game to rank 16th.
"I go back to our inability to run the football effectively for the whole year," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think that affected our passing game. I think that affected our production in all aspects of it. We will run the football better next year."
Rice had 53 more carries than last year but rushed for 119 fewer yards, finishing with 1,220 yards and five touchdowns.
The Ravens had to shuffle their offensive line because starting left tackle Jared Gaither missed the entire season with a back injury. That triggered Michael Oher being permanently moved to left tackle, where he had his struggles. And Marshal Yanda moved over from his natural right guard spot to right tackle with Chris Chester inserted at right guard.
The Ravens have already made one move, firing offensive line coach John Matsko and replacing him by promoting Andy Moeller
"We need to run the ball better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "If we run the ball better and we’re more physical, that opens a lot of possibilities from the passing game, play-calling, gives guys a chance to make plays across the board. So, if I was going to say one thing, I’d say that would be the No. 1 thing we need to focus on going forward."
Because the Ravens were unable to grind out yards on the ground, they struggled to eat up the clock. They squandered nine fourth quarter leads, being outscored 119-80 in the fourth. They built a narrow time of possession advantage overall, 30 minutes and 42 seconds to opponents 29 minute and 18 seconds.
"When you run the football and stop the run, it allows you to do so many other things," Harbaugh said. "When you can’t do those two things, I think it makes everything else really hard.
That could entail shifting Oher back to right tackle and getting Yanda back to right guard.
"Personally, I like Marshal Yanda at right guard," Harbaugh said. "I think that’s his position. He’s a dominant puller. He’s physical. If you can put a nice, big right tackle next to him, that would really help."
Such a move would be predicated by finding a reliable left tackle. Until the Ravens do so, Oher is their top option despite his struggles with false starts.
"I think he did some good things, but if you talk to Michael he’ll probably say he can play a lot better," Newsome said. "Having a year under his belt, knowing some of the people he’ll have to play against year in and year out at that position, he’ll be a better player there. He did a good job. He can do a lot better."
Oher committed eight false starts during the regular season and 11 total penalties. He also struggled against speed rushers. Is the former first-round draft pick suited to play left tackle?
"Oh yeah, he can do it," Harbaugh said. "I think Michael Oher can play either tackle. What side Mike winds up playing depends on who else is in the mix. I think he had a very good second year. I think the sky’s the limit for Michael."