Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell all scored touchdowns as the Ravens’ new rushing attack relied on older, big-name running backs. The next few weeks will determine whether this backfield of former Pro Bowl runners becomes a novelty or a complement to quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“For these guys to come in, all of them were in a place where they felt like they had something to prove, and they were sort of cast away [from other teams], just a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “For this opportunity to come up the way it did, God works in mysterious ways. To see what they’re going to do for the rest of the season is a pretty cool story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”
Baltimore (5-1) plays host to Cincinnati (4-2) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in a battle for first place in the AFC North, and the Ravens have dominated the Bengals over the past two years by running the ball. The Ravens have averaged 244 yards rushing in their past four meetings with the Bengals.
If Baltimore continues this success on the ground, it will be with a backfield that no one envisioned. A few weeks before the start of the season, starting running back J.K. Dobbins and top backup Gus Edwards both went down with season-ending knee injuries.
The Ravens signed Murray (age 31) and Freeman (29), both of whom were cut by the New Orleans Saints. Baltimore also added Bell (29) to go along with Ty’Son Williams, a practice squad player from a year ago.
All of a sudden, the Ravens went from having two young running backs who helped them gain over 3,000 yards rushing last season to three veterans who combined for six Pro Bowls from 2014 to 2017. It was a sluggish start for Baltimore’s running backs, who averaged 79.6 yards rushing in their first five games (21st in the NFL). On Sunday against the Chargers, the Ravens’ running backs totaled 115 yards rushing, including 91 yards before initial contact.
“It’s such a unique situation that all three of them are with us,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “They’re doing a nice job. We’ll continue to further get on the same page and understand everything we’re doing together as we move forward.”
There was another change for the Ravens’ running game on Friday. Murray, who had taken the lead role and started the past three games, was ruled out because of a sprained left ankle.
Freeman is expected to start and Bell would be the No. 2 back. Freeman, whose most recent start was last October, has run with a burst and leads Baltimore’s running backs with a 5.9-yard average per carry.
“I don’t feel like I want to prove nothing to nobody,” said Freeman, who has run for 95 yards on 16 carries. “I’m just trying to work and get better and take my game to the next level. Just continue to push myself and see what heights I can reach. I play football. That’s a dream come true, always, especially in the NFL. So, for me, I’m just excited to be out there. I’m just writing the book.”
Bell, who didn’t attend a training camp this year, needed time to get into football shape after he signed with the Ravens’ practice squad on Sept. 7. Averaging 2.4 yards per carry this season, he’s been recognized more for his pass protection than his running when elevated for two games. His best highlight was a 2-yard touchdown run Sunday, and he was so excited that he forgot to celebrate.
Bell recently tweeted: “Literally, just having fun. Life is what you make it and it’s been a blessing to say the least.”
The Ravens’ running backs won’t have to carry the ground game because Jackson is such a dangerous runner. He’s No. 7 in the NFL with 392 yards rushing.
But Murray, Freeman and Bell can help the Ravens exploit some below-average run defenses. After next week’s bye, Baltimore faces three teams that are in the bottom half of the NFL against the run: the Minnesota Vikings (23rd), Miami Dolphins (22nd) and Chicago Bears (18th).
“We, as a whole, in the running back room, can take it to another level,” Freeman said. “We’ve been doing a whole bunch of learning and stuff, and sometimes, when you’re unfamiliar with different offenses and terminology, it causes you to play a little slower. But we’re in the NFL, and it’s a fast business, so, they’re expecting us to know it. We have to come in and execute whenever our number is called.”