Boy how times have changed.
Who could have thought in January that by September, Ray Rice would no longer be a member of the Baltimore Ravens and Justin Forsett would be the hottest running back on the team? Unfortunately, that’s where we find ourselves; however, Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals gave some evidence to suggest that Forsett being the lead back at this point may not be all that bad.
Starting the game off as the backup ball carrier, Forsett feasted on his opportunity after starter Bernard Pierce struggled early on before losing playing time after a costly fumble.
Forsett – a castoff from the Jacksonville Jaguars last season – carried the workload during the second half, totaling 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, as well as five catches for a modest 14 yards.
Given the thrown-into-the-fire circumstances, it can be conservatively stated that Forsett was one of the offense’s top performers on a grim season-opening Sunday.
Now with the tough task of helping carry the Rice-less offensive workload for the entire season, can Forsett be relied on?
Based on his performance on Sunday, it’s hard to say he can’t contribute for the remainder of the year.
What did he display that was positive?
As a runner, several of Forsett’s plays were runs that went for more yards than what some other backs would typically gain (ex: Pierce, who has been disappointing as of late).
Let’s examine two of his key runs against the Bengals.
Here, on a simple cutback run – a staple of Baltimore’s run game -, Forsett has an open lane to cut through with two Bengals defenders closing in.
On a play like this, hitting the cutback lane hard and shooting the gap in a timely fashion is key.
Forsett has enough room to gain a handful of yards, and with the oncoming defenders, this isn’t a run that can be broken for a long gain.
However, a fast enough cut and enough aggressiveness through the hole can lead to a few extra yards gained.
He does just that, cutting back toward the middle quickly enough to gain a favorable angle on the defensive tackle.
The cutback gives Forsett a leg up, and he ultimately easily gets past the defensive line and getting to the second level before being caught up with for a tackle.
Plays such as these aren’t flashy, buy any time a running back can turn a potential zero-to-one yard gain into a five-yard run, it’s a favorable play for the offense.
For an almost 29-year-old running back (fairly old in running back years), not only is Forsett’s cutback ability still very evident, but he has more than enough speed to be a complete running back.
Hitting a hole that is being collapsed by two defenders is a tough task, but Forsett displayed the ability to achieve this feat on Sunday.
Forsett has an open lane at the line of scrimmage, but looking ahead, it’s obvious he’ll be entering some trouble at the second level.
When Forsett reaches the linebackers, it’s no easy task.
With multiple Bengals defenders in the vicinity – including an unblocked Vincent Rey (57) – it’s about a 50/50 shot as to whether or not Forsett can turn this into a longer run.
Forsett splits the duo of defenders at the second level to continue the play before ultimately being caught up by the third line of defense.
Again, nothing flashy, but a play that not all running backs can make.
There’s probably a reason Forsett is an NFL journeyman – I’m not sure what the reason is, but for the time being, it should be appreciated that Forsett is a capable Rice replacement for at least the 2014 season.
He isn’t the elite dual-threat, multi-speed player Rice was in his prime, but he’s a quick, decisive runner with receiving ability. If someone is going to replace the lost backfield catches now that Rice is gone, it will be Forsett.
Heading into Week 2, Forsett is the team’s best option at running back. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers and in the following games, the elder of the backfield deserves the bulk of the workload over Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
It may be a running back by committee approach this season, but, for now, Forsett brings the most to the offense.