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Could the Ravens split touches between their four running backs in 2020?

Could the Ravens split touches between their four running backs in 2020?

The Ravens have the best kind of problem brewing in their backfield, in that they might have too many mouths to feed.

Should the Ravens keep four running backs on the roster next season, they’ll be left with the issue of how to get all of them involved in the offense. But at a position that is so hard on the body, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at first glance.

Mark Ingram, the team’s starting running back, is 30-years-old and had more than 200 carries last season. Gus Edwards posted 133 carries. Justice Hill saw the field the least out of the three and had just 58 carries in 16 games. And the team’s newest toy in the backfield, J.K. Dobbins, carried the ball 301 times last season and 687 times total in college.

Essentially, the Ravens’ running backs have some miles on their bodies and it’s important to keep them fresh. But how?

The Ravens ran the ball 596 times last season, 98 more times than the second-place 49ers did. The Ravens were also one of three teams — the others being the Cardinals and Titans — that ran the ball for more than five-yards-per-carry.

A large part of that efficiency revolved around quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ability to scramble out of the pocket, as he carried the ball 176 times last year for 1,206 yards — the most ever for a quarterback. His dynamic abilities kept the pressure off the Ravens’ running backs and allowed them to mostly be the second-threat for a defensive gameplan.

But perhaps what the Ravens did most impressively last season was that they accomplished everything without a true workhorse rusher.

Ingram’s 202 carries placed him 20th in the league in amount of carries, while Jackson’s 176 placed him 23rd. Jackson and Ingram were the only two players with less than 217 carries to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Edwards, the team’s clear third option in the rushing attack, carried the ball 133 times — 34th in the league. For a team that ran the ball more than anyone in the league, and for more yards than anyone in the league ever had, that's an impressive way to keep guys fresh.

Now with Dobbins in the mix, and Hill another year into his career, paired with the Ravens’ desire to become a more balanced team from the one that passed the ball just 44 percent of the time last season, keeping all four backs involved could prove difficult.

The simplest answer, though, is to get rid of one.

Edwards would be the likeliest option, as a team could swoop in and realize the Ravens’ surplus of talent at running back and make a minor deal to bring Edwards in as a running back that could compete for a starting role.

A closer examination of who is on the market still, however, shows that’s not easy to pull off.

With a handful of veteran free agent options on the market still, it’s not likely a team would shell out any noteworthy draft capital to bring Edwards or even Hill onboard during training camp. In that case, it’d likely be worth it for the Ravens to just hang onto their stable of running backs in case of injury or poor performance.

If all four are on the roster next year, though, they’ll be left with figuring out how to manage their snap counts.

The Ravens attempted 1,064 plays last season, 596 of which were runs, 440 were passes and 28 were sacks. Ingram was involved in 231 of those plays (21.71 percent), Edwards was involved in 140 (13.15 percent) and Hill was involved in 73 (6.86 percent).

Of the Ravens’ total offensive plays, running backs account for 41.72 percent in either rush attempts or receiving targets.

 

Over the offseason, they continued to invest at the skill positions. Baltimore drafted Dobbins 55th and wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche at 92nd and 201st overall, respectively. That’s not accounting for the increased health of wideout Marquise Brown and the expected improvement of receiver Miles Boykin, either. 

While an increase in pass attempts could account for more plays with more stopped clocks, the Ravens still ranked seventh in total offensive plays from scrimmage last season. The league’s leader, the Eagles, ran 1,104 plays. Even if the Ravens are able to run 1,100 plays next season, nearly 40 more than they ran in 2019 and just shy of the league's leader from a year ago, there is still a finite number of possibilities for the Ravens’ to get everyone involved.

If they stick with their running mantra, Boykin or Brown might not see the second-year jumps everyone is hoping for. Perhaps Mark Andrews, who led the team in receptions and targets a year ago, sees a dip in production with more faces in the crowd.

But if Jackson attempts more passes in the 2020 season and the wide receivers get more involved, the simple answer is that someone in the backfield is going to get left out.

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How the Baltimore Ravens chose city history for their team name

How the Baltimore Ravens chose city history for their team name

Before they got their name in 1996, the Baltimore Ravens, wanted the city’s NFL franchise to be known, once again, as the Colts. 

When the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 NFL season, there were more pressing matters on the mind of the organization before a name was constructed. Plus, with more than a dozen lawsuits from Cleveland trying to prevent the move in the first place, the public option to discuss the name wasn’t available just yet. 

So, as the franchise’s brass internally sat down to come up with options, the name “Colts” was brought up. Baltimore owner Art Modell reached out to Jim Irsay in Indianapolis about acquiring the name. Modell thought he could get the rights for a couple million dollars, so he offered $5 million. 

Irsay came back with an offer around $25 million.

“We probably had, in the original mix, 12 to 15 names as possibilities,” longtime Ravens executive vice president of public and community relations, Kevin Byrne, recalled. “We looked at variations of horse themes to go along with the Colts...(After Irsay’s offer) Art said, ‘I think we’re going to have a different name.’” 

The Colts had been the name of the city’s team from 1953 to 1984. The team had won three NFL Championships and one Super Bowl and had one of the league’s most famous quarterbacks in Johnny Unitas. 

But in the early morning hours of March 29, 1984, the Colts famously left town on Mayflower trucks for Indianapolis. The franchise, owned by Robert Irsay, kept the name.

When football returned to Baltimore, retaining — or, in this case, buying — the Colts name back wasn’t an option. Neither was keeping the name "Browns."

“(Owner) Art (Modell) had said from the very beginning, ‘I’d love to have you go with us, but we can’t be the Baltimore Browns,’” Byrne recalled. “‘I can’t do that to the people in Cleveland. They need to keep Jim Brown and Brian Sipe and Ozzie Newsome. We have no right to take that.’ (So) I knew we were going to have a new name.”

Paired with Modell’s lack of desire to keep the name, as well as commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s commitment to bring football back to Cleveland with the original “Browns” name, Baltimore searched for a new name for its new team.

Bryne, who was with the Browns organization starting in 1981, followed the team from Cleveland to Baltimore. He announced his retirement from the organization in April. 

While the team searched for a name, he said the organization wanted a unique name that worked with the city’s history. One option was to name the team the “Americans,” a name based on the railroad history of Baltimore.

“David was really enamored with that,” Byrne recalled. “He used to chuckle, ‘We will be America’s Team, we’ll be called the Americans. We’ll have American flag on the helmet.’”

Another option was the “Marauders,” a nod to the city’s football past with the Colts, as well as the country’s past.

Then, the Ravens name was introduced. 

RELATED: HOW THE NATIONALS CHOSE THEIR NAME

It was based on a poem titled “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, who died in Baltimore in 1849 after spending the latter half of his life in the city. While the name is commonplace now, the debate raged on at the time.

“Internally, we couldn’t agree at all,” Byrne said. “One day we were discussing it and I said, ‘Why don’t we let the fans decide?’ So we went to The Baltimore Sun and asked them if they would like to be involved in a fan-vote. While we had lots of names, the three finalists we offered to the fans to vote on were Americans, Marauders and Ravens. And overwhelmingly, the fans selected Ravens.”

According to the Ravens’ website, The Sun announced a record-breaking 33,748 callers for the poll. The Ravens overwhelmingly won the poll with 22,463 votes. The Americans trailed 5,635, and Marauders 5,650.

“When we first practiced, we were the Mean Machine from ‘The Longest Yard,’” Byrne joked. “We didn’t have a logo on our helmets, we had white helmets with black jerseys. We had to kind of hurry the process.”

Once the name was chosen, colors had to be picked for the team. The pictures and descriptions the organization found of ravens showed the bird’s black figure with the look of almost purple wings. 

“In talking with the league, they told us, ‘You just can’t be black and purple, you need some white colors in there,’” Byrne said. “So we looked at the state flag which had some gold in it, had some yellow, had a little red in it, then we got those colors in to brighten up.”

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And with the name and colors decided, the Ravens were officially the NFL’s newest franchise. 

The only thing left to work out was the blending of Baltimore’s past into the future of the Ravens. Byrne credited Art Modell for making that happen. 

Former Baltimore Colt players were interested in who Art was, and many of them likened him to Robert Irsay in Indianapolis. Byrne assured them that wasn’t the case.

After Modell met with the former players and earned their trust, he set his sights on getting Unitas onboard. And with a promise to look after the NFL’s alumni from Modell, Unitas agreed to be on board with the Ravens’ organization. 

Later that year on Sept. 1 against the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens officially entered the NFL, with Baltimore Colt legends welcoming them on the field.

“John came, we had opening day with the jackets, we all lined up and Johnny presented the game ball to the referee,” Byrne said. “It was like the imprimatur from the Pope so to speak, that the Baltimore Colts were telling all the fans, ‘It’s OK to root for these guys. These guys are us.’”

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If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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