Saturday, January 22, 2011

Improving the Running Game Won't be Easy for Ravens

So the Ravens have made improving their running game priority number 1 this offseason. After all an offense’s best friend is a productive rushing attack and the Ravens’ offense sure could use a one right about now.

A productive running game helps the defense, it travels well and for the most part it’s weather resilient.

Great idea! Good plan guys!

Planning to improve the running game however, is one thing – actually doing it is another.

Most would agree that the Ravens have issues with their offensive line otherwise former offensive line coach John Matsko (aka John Harbaugh’s sacrificial lamb) would not be in Carolina with the Panthers. Former Matsko assistant Andy Moeller now holds that title.

Unless Moeller has some magic wand, the personnel on the offensive front needs a boost if they plan on performing better in 2011. Michael Oher struggled often at left tackle while Matt Birk was inconsistent at center, perhaps slowed by an ailing knee. Chris Chester is too often overpowered while Marshal Yanda, although admirable, played out of position at right tackle.

Jared Gaither may or may not stay but the bet here is that he will be one of the future former Ravens in the not too distant future. The team really can’t trust and depend upon the enigmatic Gaither who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus and therefore a long-term deal is unlikely. While the Ravens may try to convince Rosenhaus that his client can benefit from playing for one more season in order to re-establish the vastly talented but underachieving tackle’s market value, that appears to be a long shot.

More than likely Rosenhaus is intimately aware of Gaither’s aloof and uninspired ways and will take what he can get in the way of a lengthier deal sooner rather than later.

Some believed that Chester could supplant Birk once the six-time Pro Bowler decided to call it a career. Insiders will tell you that Chester could be a very effective center when facing a 4-3 front. However against a 3-4 Chester is engulfed by big nose tackles and that’s an issue, particularly since their archrival Steelers have fielded a 3-4 defense for decades.

Clearly personnel in the trenches must be addressed if the Ravens hope to achieve their improved running game goal.

And those personnel issues might not end there.

Over the past three seasons the Ravens have featured the three-headed monster in the persons of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. Rice is a staple and there’s little reason to believe that he will be used all that differently. Ideally the team will want to cut back on his workload which climbed by 21% (254 carries v. 307) if they hope to have Rice on their roster for several more seasons.

McGahee, another Rosenhaus client, is set to make $6 million in 2011 under the terms of his current contract. He won’t get that from the Ravens particularly when Rice is set to earn a relatively paltry $555,000. It’s possible, some might even say likely, that we’ve seen the last of McGahee in a Ravens uniform who will turn 30 in October.

And that brings us to McClain, a player who by his own admission doesn’t expect to be in Baltimore next season unless he’s playing for one of the Ravens’ opponents.

McClain has worn his welcome thin if not out with the Ravens given his campaign to run it more (McClain4RB); his reckless Twitter account; costly personal fouls and Spitgate involving him and Dolphins’ LB Channing Crowder.

It has been the team’s M.O. to replace fullbacks through the draft or by acquiring a less costly but more established veteran such as Sam Gash and Lorenzo Neal.

Committing to improving the running game is a start.

Actually doing it won’t be easy – a task that becomes even more challenging if O-Line Coach Moeller flunks the team’s imposed zero tolerance policy as it relates to his sobriety and DUI issues?

GM Ozzie Newsome and Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta have their work cut out for them particularly with the pending labor strife.

It may be the offseason for the players, but for Newsome and DeCosta it’s “game on!”


Harryos29 said...

Harry OS29 Jan 22
Regarding the offensive line, I listened to Sunpapers Writer Mike Preston on the flag ship station this week.
He thinks Gaither is "GONE". Me too: it was a nice experiment by selecting him off the TERPS campus as a sophomore; In a perfect world his attitude would improve, his health would improve, and he would be standing on the "BLIND SIDE" instead of MICHAEL OHER and OHER would be protecting FLACCO on the Right side. However, as Ravens fans found out last Saturday, its not a perfect world..especailly when it goes through the STEEL CITY.
..I'm sure ERIC and OZZIE are scanning other rosters as I type this blog, looking for potential free agent offensive linemen. I think that, where the team is now, the WINDOW is shrinking quickly for a lot of our Veteran players and drafting an offensive lineman may not be an option at this point.
Infact, Coach Harbaugh has shown that he, is not inclined to play rookies. (SEE DAVID REED)
...Stay tuned, we may see another new OFFENSIVE LINE coach before long considering Moellers driving habits lately.