Mike Preston: For Ravens offense to be more consistent, the answer is clear: Run the ball. | COMMENTARY

The Ravens’ new identity should be the same as the old one.

They need to build around their running game, and it was never more evident than Sunday night after a 20-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

The Ravens brought in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken in February to replace Greg Roman, and he was expected to give the unit a face-lift for the 2023 season. Check. But as the Ravens enter December as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and are eyeing a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the postseason, they need to find out what they do the best and build around it.

That’s run the football.

The Ravens brought in established wide receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor during the offseason and then drafted Zay Flowers in the first round in April to jazz up the offense, but their most dependable weapons are running backs Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell and quarterback Lamar Jackson.

I’m not talking about Jackson as a passer, but as a runner, because he’s another weapon in the running game.

Against the Chargers, Mitchell had nine carries for 64 yards followed by Jackson (11 carries for 39 yards), Hill (5 for 31) and Edwards (8 for 26). They had outside and inside weapons and Jackson running option plays and run-pass options. In the second half, they started wearing the Chargers down, and by the fourth quarter, Los Angeles had just about surrendered.

The Ravens’ passing game isn’t so dependable.

Both offensive tackles, Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley, have struggled in pass protection and neither could handle Los Angeles edge rusher Khalil Mack on Sunday night. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but both have had trouble protecting Jackson all season. Stanley isn’t the Pro Bowl player he once was before having several ankle surgeries and Moses is much better at run blocking, especially pulling and getting to the perimeter.

Then there is the Jackson factor. He is better with his initial reads and getting the ball to his receivers quickly, which is why the Ravens worked so hard on quick releases in training camp. But when Jackson is pressured and can’t escape the pocket, he panics and struggles to work through his progressions. It wasn’t a problem that suddenly developed Sunday night, but an area in which he has struggled for six years.

The Ravens are successful running those quick slants to Beckham or the quick turn-ins to Rashod Bateman. They are good at getting Flowers and tight end Isaiah Likely the ball quickly in space because they are elusive and explosive. Those are easy completions, but Jackson still struggles to throw the ball deep and outside the numbers.

That brings us back to the running game.

When he first became the offensive coordinator, Monken said he wanted to attack the entire field. Well, the running game gives him all the options.

Mitchell has great speed and burst. Edwards is the power back inside. Hill is the third-down weapon out of the backfield in passing situations and showed Sunday that he can run with power inside the red zone. Jackson can score from anywhere on the field.

On the offensive line, both Moses and Stanley are agile and able to get downfield. Guards John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler can pull or knock players off the ball, and second-year player Tyler Linderbaum has become one of the best and most versatile centers in the NFL.

The Ravens want versatility, and they have that to a degree. Opposing teams have to respect Beckham and tight end Mark Andrews if he returns from a severe ankle injury he suffered Nov. 16 against the Bengals. But the passing game is more window dressing than anything else because the Ravens run the ball extremely well.

It’s hard to depend on an inconsistent quarterback and offensive tackles who struggle to keep that guy upright, but it’s great to have a strong running game to build around. Combined with one of the league’s top defenses, that’s been a winning formula in the NFL for decades.

Of course, times have changed and the league is supposedly pass-happy, but this is the time of the year when teams start to find their identity. For the Ravens, it’s the same as their old one.

They have more balance now, but the philosophy should be the same: Run the ball.


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