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#ColumnNes The Ravens should be running first (and second and third) to victory

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Nestor Aparicio
Nestor Aparicio
Baltimore Positive is the vision and the creative extension of four decades of sharing the love of local sports for this Dundalk native and University of Baltimore grad, who began his career as a sportswriter and music critic at The News American and The Baltimore Sun in the mid-1980s. Launched radio career in December 1991 with Kenny Albert after covering the AHL Skipjacks. Bought WNST-AM 1570 in July 1998, created WNST.net in 2007 and began diversifying conversations on radio, podcast and social media as Baltimore Positive in 2016. nes@baltimorepositive.com

We’ve spent the first five years in witness of this evolving Lamar Jackson Show and have forever wanted nothing more than for the Baltimore Ravens to throw the ball more or “better” – whatever that means for a quarterback who entered Sunday’s game 40-15 (a whopping .750 winning percentage) as a starter in the NFL.

Perhaps in our haste to throw it all away, we’ve lost sight of the fact that the entire operation has been assembled to run around – and with – No. 8 and still does that better than anyone when they’re doing it the right way.

The narrow 23-20 win over the pesky Cleveland Browns showed once again that when the Ravens are winning regularly, it’ll be on days when the running game is working so well that we don’t even bother talking about how much Lamar is throwing the football. (Well, unless, we’re representing him and counting those nine completions on 16 passes on Sunday or his $250 million payday on the internet or, perhaps, a free agent wide receiver under the age of 35 who might “choose” Baltimore to catch footballs.)

A saucy internet podcast made the circuit over the weekend featuring former Ravens wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh laughing at former cornerback Orlando Scandrick’s statement based on a 1-to-10 scale that Lamar Jackson is a “4” as a passer and that no serious wide receiver in the league would desire to be in this offense.

It’s rude. It’s crude. But don’t let it make you brood: when this Ravens’ running game is pounding the ball and winning because of it, this team will be happier on more Sunday nights than thinking that Lamar Jackson is going to gun-sling 45 passes a week and carry that into January and a Super Bowl in February. And if you’ll argue that they haven’t assembled or established elite receivers  – outside of what Mark Andrews has become as a tight end and primary target – then I would argue that the offensive line was never assembled to pass protect.

You can’t speak of the enormous impact of Gus Edwards in Sunday’s key win over a division foe without the realization that you have to feed the beast. And for all of the drama around the offense – and the hideous and nearly costly fumble of Justice Hill in the fourth quarter – it was the defense that hatched some more long-term potential and star power in the end to (finally) save the day.

Malik Harrison got his hand on the eventual game-winner. Patrick Queen was all over the field and played the best game of his career. Calais Campbell popped a loose ball. Grizzled veterans Justin Houston and Jason Pierre Paul both stepped up alongside young Odafe Oweh to create a pass rush that looks more formidable, especially if you believe the strength still lies in the secondary and its thick wallet and expectations to not only get off the field but to take the ball away when it’s in the air.

And as much as this win over Cleveland resembled something more like complimentary football, the margin of victory was still polishing-his-Canton- plaque kicker Justin Tucker hitting a whopping 55-yard field goal – and his counterpart from the Cleveland Browns Cade York getting his potential game-tying, 60-yard attempt blocked by Harrison at the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens came that close to blowing another double-digit fourth quarter lead at home.

Vince Lombardi never won any speeches or sold any books by calling it a game of kickers, but sometimes this game called “football” comes down to a foot. Or a bob of the head or perhaps an errant breathe, in the case of the Browns offensive line in a still-phantom-to-me movement that moved York’s kick from possible at 55, to likely at 50, to impossible at 60 after a zebra convention declared the penalty on the orange helmets.

(They have replay available in the National Football League. How in the world can that NOT be reviewed, given these decisions make winners and losers of the bettors that the NFL has now courted, encouraged, sanctioned and owns a piece of the action?)

On a day when Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the totality of the Super Bowl XLVII championship extended family arrived home 10 years later to a mostly empty stadium for a pre-game ceremony and a day when tickets were readily available for $20, I’m not sure that the “ground and pound” that recovered-and-playing-well-again Ronnie Stanley spoke of in an all-too-short-to-appreciate postgame victory celebration packs them in. I know that blowing double-digit fourth quarter leads hasn’t been an attractive style of football to witness for any of us in recent weeks.

We can talk about all of those empty seats another time but I’m not sure the owner cares about such trivial things when the team is printing money – and will enter the short-rest game on Thursday with a piece of first place in the AFC North.

In what felt like a great task when the schedules were released in the spring – a short-rest week in preparation for Tom Brady in Tampa – now feels like an opportunity to crush an ailing, woe-begone outfit with a 45-year-old beleaguered G.O.A.T. who might be looking for an exit strategy sooner than later. And I won’t start the Lamar-to-Tampa-for-tax-purposes argument on a short victory week.

But are the Ravens any good? And does it even matter in October if the goal is to sleep in on Friday and get ready for some cupcake scheduling and, hopefully, better health and more additions like David Ojabo, Tyus Bowser and finding some unique snaps for DeSean Jackson.

The Ravens have had double-digit fourth quarter leads in ALL seven games they’ve played. Think about that! The fact that they are only 4-3 speaks for itself and we all witnessed the late carnage that nearly crept up on the team again on Sunday against the now desperate 2-5 Browns.

As Lamar Jackson pointed out in the aftermath – this win over the Browns buys the franchise some relief and a chance to go to Tampa ready to play on Thursday.

And, again, for Lamar the best news is the running game and what that will mean for the offense when they do want to throw the ball.

Devin Duvernay is becoming a factor on special teams and can catch the ball. Rashod Bateman got back and caught four balls. Ronnie Stanley is running around and Patrick Mekari looks good enough to start anywhere on the line. They won’t be too impatient waiting on J.K. Dobbins with the way the trio of Edwards, Kenyan Drake and Justice Hill (when he doesn’t fumble the ball) can run behind this emerging and suddenly more stable line.

The win over the Browns was a game of rising stars. Chad Steele didn’t have any lack of candidates to come to the podium after this win. It was a bit of a coming-out party for a bunch of guys not named Lamar.

In two sleeps there will be a lot of fatigued guys getting on the plane for Tampa and we’ll watch them slog it out in the usual sloppy, unprepared-to-play football that Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit have been afforded while I borrow my son’s Amazon Prime account to watch the game on my not-TV.

Tampa got their asses kicked Sunday by a team in Carolina with a quarterback named P.J. Walker. The Panthers aren’t even trying to win and Brady threw the ball 49 times and managed three points in Charlotte. And the Buccaneers were atrocious at stopping the run.

Put The Gus Bus in the garage for a few days and hand him the ball again at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night.

It’s time for Ground Roman.

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