Ravens running back Mark Ingram carried 202 times for 1,018 yards last season as the Ravens ran over their competition with the most prolific rushing attack in NFL history. Through five games this year, Ingram has seen his production drop off sharply, emblematic of an offense that has yet to fully hit its stride this season despite a 4-1 record.
“We have to find ways to continue to get better,” Ingram said Oct. 14 as the Ravens prepared to face the Philadelphia Eagles. “We know that we haven’t played our best as an offense yet.”
Ingram’s production is down about 30 percent from last year; with 45 carries for 205 yards, he is on pace for 144 carries and 656 yards this year. He has been sharing the workload with backs Gus Edwards (34-192) and rookie J.K. Dobbins (16-126), as well as quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has opted against a “riding the hot hand” approach, shuffling the work among Ingram, Edwards and to a lesser extent, Dobbins. (Justice Hill, the No. 4 back, has played in only one game because of injury and has not yet played on offense.)
In a 27-3 win against Cincinnati this past week, Ingram had 11 carries in 19 snaps, Edwards ran seven times in 25 snaps and Dobbins had just one carry — breaking off a 34-yarder — in 18 snaps.
If the time-share approach bothers Ingram — who entered camp as the definitive No. 1 back but saw the team use a second-round pick on the highly-touted Dobbins — he isn’t letting on.
“Obviously, I want the ball,” Ingram said. “Obviously, I want to be on the field, getting into a rhythm, making plays. But at the same time, we have … great players in our room, all guys who can be explosive, all guys who can make plays. Being in a rotation, that’s just what it is.”
Overall, there just has less opportunity for everyone, as the Ravens’ offense has not sustained the drives or committed to the run the way they did last year, when the Ravens ran 596 times — nearly 100 more than any other team — for an NFL all-time record 3,296 yards.
The Ravens still rank among the league’s best rushing teams, averaging 160.8 rushing yards a game, third-best in the league. And they are averaging a league-best 5.58 yards a run. Yet they average about nine fewer carries per game than they did a year ago.
Jackson and head coach John Harbaugh have said teams are showing them different looks, with safeties often playing downhill toward the line of scrimmage to thwart the run game. Linebackers are cheating to the outside to deny Jackson the perimeter after a year in which he set an all-time record for a quarterback with 1,206 yards. (Jackson’s run game production is also way down, though he leads the team with 238 yards on 41 carries.)
So that has influenced play-calling. Last season, the Ravens ran on 56 percent of their offensive plays; this year, they have run 49 percent. Jackson, who missed a practice last week with knee soreness (and another with illness), ran just twice for 3 yards against Cincinnati Oct. 11. That’s his lowest total since he became the starter midway through the 2018 season.
It’s as if teams are daring the Ravens to throw. But Jackson has been less accurate this year, especially in the past few weeks.
Jackson has completed 63.7 percent of his passes this year compared to 66.1 percent a year ago, but during the past three games, his percentage is 55.8 percent (48-for-86). And the Ravens aren’t converting third downs as successfully as last year. The Ravens’ possession time this year ranks 22nd at 29:07, 5 1/2 minutes a game less than last year, when they led the league at 34:37. Fewer sustained drives means fewer opportunities for the running backs.
Ingram said rotating the backs keeps them all fresh and healthy, which can be advantageous late in a game when protecting a lead, but it’s clear, as Harbaugh said earlier this week, that this offense, and this running game, is “still very much a work in progress.”
“We know we want to get better,” Ingram said. “And we have to get better in order to get to where we want to go, which is to be champions. The 2020 Ravens are still working on our identity.”
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