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Leach gets lost in shuffle

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Leach gets lost in shuffle

Lost in the shuffle in the underused running game is Vonta Leach.

Because of the no-huddle offense, the All-Pro fullback has been almost invisible through seven games which is astounding when considering his value.

Leach is an excellent blocker, and when Ray Rice usually gets chunks of yardage he's usually out front creating the space.

Rice has 106 carries, just nine fewer than last season at this point, but he goes long stretches without being involved in the offense.

The same goes for Leach.

After an ugly 9-6 win at the Kansas City Chiefs, Rice lamented it was good to see the team remembered it could run the ball on the final drive to secure the victory. And then he lobbied on behalf of Leach, who has just three carries for 15 yards and 10 catches for 81 for the season.

This week, coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that Leach has to get more involved as he re-tools his inconsistent offense going into the bye week.

“We want to use him more than that. Absolutely. He is handling it like a pro. He and I had a talk on the plane about it," Harbaugh said about the aftermath of the 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday. "He was great, but he wants to play, and he knows he can help us.

"He wants to be out there. You can’t really guarantee that you’re going to do this in one game and that in another game, but on average, Vonta Leach has got to play more than that. There are going to be some games where maybe he doesn’t play as much."

Leach had three receptions in the opening 44-13 win vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. He had just one carry in a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was for a five-yard touchdown to open the Ravens' scoring.

After RIce had gained 27 yards on his first three carries vs. Houston, Leach had his first -- and only -- carry for six yards late in the first quarter with Baltimore leading 3-0. But quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked on the next two plays which led to a safety. 

Five minutes later, the Ravens were behind 16-3 and panic set in and a run game that the Texans had yet to prove they could solve was totally abandoned.

"I’m not defending what we decided to do in that game or what we didn’t decide to do," Harbaugh said. "It didn’t work. We tried to get back in the game, and it didn’t work. But yes, Vonta is a big part of what we’re doing.”

 

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

Lamar Jackson has gone 3-1 since taking over for an injured Joe Flacco as the Ravens starting quarterback, with the lone loss coming in overtime against Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs.

The offense has been unstoppable on the ground and very hit-or-miss through the air (with more misses than hits). The defense has looked revitalized. The Ravens have dominated time of possession stats, even with Jackson’s fumbling issues.

On the surface it would seem like the Joe Flacco Era is over in Baltimore, as his month-long injury has given way to a new style of football in Baltimore.

That may not be the case, however.

CBS mentioned early in the broadcast Sunday that Flacco had been cleared this past week, and John Harbaugh confirmed it postgame. The only reason Flacco wasn’t active this week was a lack of preparation time; medically, he’s ready to return.

But are the Ravens ready to return to him?

Most fans are probably fully on board with Jackson moving forward. Winning three games and taking an elite team to overtime on the road in the fourth game have a tendency to win over observers. Harbaugh isn’t just a casual observer, however. He has to make the ultimate decision of what will give his team the best chance to keep winning in the next three weeks and make the postseason.

We don't expect much clarity early in the week. Harbaugh has played it close to the vest throughout the last four weeks. In the days leading up to each matchup, fans have speculated that Jackson will remain the starter, and in each scenario, the Ravens head coach has gone out of his way to avoid naming a starter until as late as possible.

On Monday, Harbaugh added some fuel to the fire behind Flacco potentially reutrning to the starting role.

It’s a smart ploy from Harbaugh, as Flacco and Jackson play such contrasting styles that keeping it a surprise is detrimental to the opposing defense.

Anecdotally, it seems like the Ravens employing a rush-heavy attack (they finished two yards shy of a fourth-straight 200-yard game on Sunday) has kept the defense rested into the 4th quarter of each game, which has helped them finish strong prior to the Chiefs game. And the offense, while not scoring as many points as it did under Flacco, isn’t too far behind and has managed to at least sustain drives at a much better rate.

Jackson has played well for an unproven rookie who was assumed to need plenty of development to be an impact quarterback, but that’s still a lot of qualifiers. Even against poor defenses, Jackson hasn’t exactly exploded. The Chiefs game was clearly his best passing performance, and still he was under 150 passing yards, though he did finally have a multi-TD outing.

It’s a unique scenario in which the option that gives the team a better chance to score (possibly Flacco) may not be the option that gives them a better chance to win. Not to mention the fact that Jackson is clearly the future of the Ravens, and playing against quality teams in the midst of a postseason stretch run can only aid his long-term development.

It’s a question without an answer, at least for the next week. But it’s definitely one on the minds of Ravens fans, players, and coaches alike as the franchise enters one of the most significant three-game stretches under John Harbaugh. If he comes up with the right answer, it will mean celebrating in Charm City and Harbaugh solidifying his future with the team. If not, then the Ravens may just barely miss out on yet another postseason, and every option will be on the table for owner Steve Bisciotti.

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Robert Griffin III plays the final minutes of Ravens' OT loss to Chiefs

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Robert Griffin III plays the final minutes of Ravens' OT loss to Chiefs

With the Baltimore Ravens needing to get in field goal position to stay alive in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs, it wasn’t Joe Flacco or Lamar Jackson under center with the game on the line on third and 22. 

It was Robert Griffin, III. 

It was the second straight week Griffin has had to step in for relief for Jackson following an injury. A hit on Jackson by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston sidelined the Ravens’ rookie, forcing Griffin to come in at a less-than-ideal time. 

Griffin had no time to work his way into a rhythm or pass time until Jackson potentially returned. His first pass attempt to John  Brown was nearly picked off and his second pass to Willie Snead was incomplete. Following the game, several Ravens players -- including Griffin -- felt Chiefs defensive back Kendall Fuller interfered with the play. 

Moving forward, the Ravens find themselves in a dilemma. If healthy, stick with the young Jackson who won three games in a row and was in the game against the class of the AFC, albeit limited in the passing game, give Griffin a shot who gives the team more options in the passing game or go back to the veteran Flacco for the stretch run of the playoffs. 

At 7-6, the Ravens are holding on to the final playoff spot by the slimmest of margins. Head coach John Harbaugh has an important decision to make before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town next week. 

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