Without Lamar Jackson and Running Attack, Ravens Must Adjust Backfield Plan

Without Lamar and running attack, Ravens must adjust backfield originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Ravens were bound to be hit with some serious coronavirus-related issues at specific positions simply by the number of cases they had on the roster. 

As it turned out, that area of the field where they could be impacted the most is in the backfield. 

Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Trace McSorley were put on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in recent days, as were running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins. Friday, the team announced it put fullback Patrick Ricard on the list, too. 

The Ravens-Steelers game, which was moved from Thursday to Sunday then to Tuesday, won’t feature any of those players with the exception of potentially McSorley. On the following Monday against the Cowboys, there’s a chance a few of those players could return. But as tough as it is, the league must go on with the Ravens in the midst of a serious COVID-19 outbreak in Baltimore.

On the field now, the Ravens have a two-deep quarterback depth chart of Robert Griffin III and Tyler Huntley. In the backfield, they have running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill on the 53-man roster and could bring up practice squad running back Ty’Son Williams. There isn’t a backup fullback on the roster. 

Losing Jackson for the Steelers game is problem enough, as the reigning league MVP will be replaced by Griffin, who has thrown just two passes this season. The backup for Griffin, right now, is Huntley, who hasn’t even dressed for an NFL game of any kind. If McSorley can return, the Ravens will be least assured of some experience at quarterback.

In the run game, though, they’ve lost 233 of the 327 carries they’ve had so far this season without their typical host of backfield options. 

The expectation will be for Griffin to handle the offense with veteran poise, as he’s been with the team for three seasons now and in this offense for two. The same will go for Edwards, who leads the team in running back carries so far this season. Hill, in his second year, is experienced enough to handle a bigger load as well. 

Where the big difference will come is when Ricard isn’t on the field. 

The Ravens rely heavily on Ricard’s presence as a lane-clearing fullback, where he’s one of the league’s best. In terms of pound-for-pound as a blocker, he’s one of the best blockers on the roster, too. Especially without tight end Nick Boyle, perhaps the league’s best blocking tight end, the Ravens no longer have their usual lineup in the backfield or at tight end. Instead of finding replacements for Boyle and Ricard and Ingram and Dobbins and Jackson, the Ravens will have to get creative. 

Simply, there isn’t a replacement on the roster or in the free-agent market that can do as good of a job as Ricard was set to do on Tuesday against the Steelers. 

The most likely option is for the Ravens to utilize their receivers perhaps more than they have all season long. Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown, Willie Snead, Dez Bryant and Miles Boykin could play their most action of the season, as could tight end Mark Andrews. With an injured offensive line with a lot of moving pieces, the gameplan could involve quick-hitting pass plays to get the ball out of Griffin’s hand soon against an impressive Steelers front.

The Ravens could add more two-backfield sets with Edwards and Hill, though it’s clear they’d want three running backs if that will be a look they show throughout the game. If one were to get injured, they would be in a deep hole. 

Really, whatever the Ravens decide, it could end up being something they hadn’t done all season. 

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