Originally written on Pro Football Spot  |  Last updated 11/17/14
But at 3-3, it's also fair to say they aren't a great team either. The Cincinnati Bengals have looked the part of AFC North favorites all year and now they have a one game lead over the Ravens. Despite being defending Super Bowl Champions, there's really no strong evidence to indicate that the Ravens are a sure bet to even make the playoffs this year. Really for the Ravens to experience success going forward, some changes need to be made. Mostly with the team's surprising Achilles heel: their total lack of a run game this season. Against the Green Bay Packers, the Ravens totaled 47 rushing yards. This brings down their yard per carry average to 2.7, bad enough to tie the Jacksonville Jaguars for worst in the NFL. This is really embarrassing and I think it's safe to say that the run game's weekly descent has now sent it plummeting to rock bottom. Even with all the money Joe Flacco is getting, the Ravens aren't built to be a pass-heavy offense. One of the few encouragements of last week's loss involved receivers like Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones stepping up. Usually though it's been Torrey Smith carrying the pass game and too much lately it's fallen on his and Flacco's shoulders to make something happen on offense. So fixing the run game is basically needed for there to be sustainable success. This team is probably talented enough to get to 7-9 or 8-8 with the way things are. Fixing the run game though could produce double digit wins and help the Ravens make a run for a third consecutive division title. There are several practical steps for the Ravens to try to fix what's wrong with the run game. With so much of the same offensive players back from last year's 11th ranked run offense, it's possible that the problem is coming from the run scheme. This zone scheme was implemented this season by new run game coordinator Juan Castillo. With this scheme, the offensive linemen are responsible for blocking zones as opposed to players on the opposite team. Thus far, the scheme has been awful with not only the aforementioned running game struggles but also because Flacco has very little time in pass protection and is frequently getting hit. Castillo seems to be bearing the brunt of the blame from fans and with the bye coming in two weeks, it's possible he could be shown the door. John Harbaugh has said that the team has no loyalty to any specific scheme so hopefully this is a sign that there will be some schematic changes soon. At the very least, the offense could do to vary the playcalling a little bit. Running and getting one or two yards every first down is just so depressingly predictable now. It's also gradually forcing the offense to pass as second-and-long switches to third-and-long. Although no one on the offensive line has played great this year, Bryant McKinnie and Gino Gradkowski have been the ones who have particularly struggled. The Eugene Monroe trade will likely be what keeps McKinnie off the field the rest of the year. Could we also see Gradkowski get benched? Gradkowski has been a huge downgrade from what Matt Birk did at center last year. His weekly struggles suggest that he might just not be ready for a starting job. Behind him on the depth chart is A.Q. Shiplay, a castoff from the Indianapolis Colts who was brought in to compete for the starting job. He's a raw project, entering his third year with zero career starts. So there's definitely a lot of risk but at the same time, what has Gradkowski done to inspire confidence that he can become a successful starter? The only other personnel change that I can think of to fix the run game is to stop playing Ray Rice. I know that may sound like heresy but let me explain. He's clearly injured now and with his explosiveness being compromised, it might be best to accept that and try to get him healthy. Contrary to what you may think, there are some decent free agent running backs still available. Michael Turner has never been known for speed or catching, but he can at least earn some tough yards up the middle. Cedric Benson may have his issues, but he's topped 1,000 yards rushing in three of his last four seasons. You could also potentially add in a Beanie Wells or a Montario Hardesty to star in a committee alongside Bernard Pierce. It's definitely not ideal but if Rice is secretly hurt, it might be best to accept facts and get him off the field. Whatever conclusion the coaches reach regarding the run game, it's clear that things as they stand now aren't working. Hopefully the coaches can solve that problem soon, especially as the Ravens now enter a crucial stretch of three straight division games.
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