Preseason is in full gear and teams around the league are trying to get questions about their teams answered. For the Ravens, the most paramount question centers on the run game. While many things will shape what becomes of the 2014 Ravens, how effectively they are able to run the football will overwhelmingly decide how much of a contender they are, and really…question #2 on the same list…isn’t close.
While it’s no question the Ravens got better on the offensive side of the ball, they didn’t significantly improve separating from man coverage. While it’s no question Steve Smith and Owen Daniels represent upgrades in the passing game, to maximize their effectiveness you need a strong running game in place. If the team faces as many 3rd-and-longs as they did last year they may be a bit more successful because of the monumental scheme upgrade and the said adds of Smith and Daniels. But from a team success standpoint it would be hard to envision a larger win total. Kyle Juszczyk’s use in the offense has been a revelation to fans. There is so much he can do within formations and concepts but without the threat of the run his snaps would take a hit, and the snaps he does take might become a lot more predictable.
Those play action crossing patterns to the tight ends that are a staple of Gary Kubiak’s offense require successful stretch runs. Leaking the fullback down the seam on play action requires the threat of solid gains running downhill. Establishing the incredible advantage of Joe Flacco’s right arm with the wheels of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, especially from an efficiency standpoint, requires a control of the line of scrimmage. This will also have key trickle effects on the defensive side of the ball.
On defense the team should be stouter at the line of scrimmage. They have solid depth all across the front seven, but the pass rush remains lethargic. A more successful running game usually means fewer snaps for the defense, specifically less snaps for Terell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to have more juice to get after the passer later in games. This could also help a secondary that’s quickly thinning from a depth standpoint, along with their play-making questions.
So far this preseason the offensive line has looked cohesive. The running backs have been decisive and it’s clear the play calling has a purpose. From a personnel standpoint, the team’s offense is really well built to run this style of offense; they also are very dependent on it. If the success continues you’ll see career years from Flacco, Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith, a breakout campaign from Kyle Juszczyk, and good complementary seasons from Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones and Daniels.
More importantly, you’ll see the return of a team that could make a deep playoff run.