Ravens’ depth, versatility paying off at outside linebacker

September 17, 2013 | Luke Jones

It’s easy to say the Ravens should focus more on the running game with their lack of receiving targets, but you have to be at least a little concerned with the performance of the offensive line in that department through two weeks.

Both Denver and Cleveland possess strong front sevens, so it’d be unfair to judge too harshly, but a 2.8 yards per carry average (28th in the NFL) on 57 rushing attempts doesn’t suggest the ground attack being the cure to the offensive woes. To their credit, the Ravens stuck with the running game and were 7-for-9 on third down in the second half of their win against Cleveland, but several of those conversions were of the longer variety after gaining little on the ground on first and second down.

The notion that you’re wearing down a defense by committing to the run is valid, but that only goes so far, according to Harbaugh, making it difficult to be patient over the course of a game.

“You’re not always wearing them down,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes, they’re just getting stronger. You’ve got to gauge that a little bit. We’d sure like runs to go for more than one or two yards, but I think we understand that sometimes that happens against a good defense. You have to get better at everything.”

While the Ravens are confident that they can run to the right side behind Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and a healthy Michael Oher, there are concerns elsewhere as left tackle Bryant McKinnie isn’t considered a strong run blocker and the strength of new center Gino Gradkowski has come into question. The most surprising concern of the offensive line, however, might be the early play of second-year left guard Kelechi Osemele, who dominated at the position in last year’s postseason but hasn’t graded out well. Osemele’s pass protection has been even more problematic as he surrendered four hurries on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus.

With the deficiencies at wide receiver and tight end clear and the potential need to rely more on the running game, the Ravens need their offensive line to be one of the best units in the league and to play like it did last January.

In the early portion of 2013, we haven’t seen that.

Doss solidifies return game

After the Ravens lost Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones in the first half of their Week 1 loss at Denver, determining who would handle return duties was anybody’s guess after running back Bobby Rainey was claimed off waivers before making it to the practice squad at the end of the preseason.

Re-signed early last week, wide receiver Tandon Doss ended up filling in admirably on kickoffs and punt returns, curing what looked like a potential problem for at least his first week on the job. Doss lacks the game-changing speed of Jones, but if he can secure the ball, make good decisions, and trust special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s blocking schemes on returns, he is quick enough to gain positive yardage like he did on the 22-yard punt return that set the Ravens up on a short field in the fourth quarter against the Browns.

“He really solidified us back there with Jacoby being out and made the plays,” Harbaugh said. “He set up the score at the end of the game with the [22-yard] punt return or whatever it was. We got the ball down at the 42-yard line, I think, and took it in to score.”

Doss’ ability to handle both punts and kickoffs also allows the Ravens more flexibility on game days when they are only able to use 46 active players. Against the Browns, many assumed the newly-signed Shaun Draughn would return kickoffs because of his experience with Kansas City, but the Ravens ultimately listed him as inactive because of Doss’ ability to handle double duty as a returner.

Doss further proved his value as a gunner on the punt team, downing a Sam Koch punt at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter and putting the struggling Browns offense in a huge hole late in the game.