Getting Alex Collins, Ravens run game on track is 'big priority'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If the Baltimore Ravens want to make their way back to the playoffs, they need to clear bigger paths for Alex Collins and the rest of their running backs.

Through two games, the Ravens are averaging 3.3 yards per carry, which is the third-worst in the NFL; they're behind only New Orleans Saints (2.9) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.7).

The efficiency of the run game has been a telling number under coach John Harbaugh. When averaging over 4 yards per carry as a team, Baltimore has reached the postseason in five of six seasons. When held under 4 yards per carry, the Ravens have failed to make the playoffs in three of four seasons.

On Monday, Harbaugh called it "a big priority" to get the running game back on track.

"We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers," Harbaugh said. "We are very determined to run the ball well because we think it fits our offense, and it’s something that opens everything else up. We have to get that going."

Collins, in particular, has struggled this season. After ranking 11th in the NFL last season in rushing, Collins is currently No. 50 with 48 yards. That's as many rushing yards as Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and just 3 more yards than Ravens backup quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Some of this has been dictated by the games. As Harbaugh explained, the Buffalo Bills made it their focus to stop the run, and the Cincinnati Bengals forced Baltimore out of its run game by taking a 21-0 lead.

Some of the disappointing output can be chalked up to a lack of clear running lanes. Collins has avoided 10 tackles on 20 touches, according to Pro Football Focus data.

"We need to pop some runs," Harbaugh said. "That’s the biggest issue. When you hit some long runs, that average goes to where you want it to be."

Collins' quick feet and elusiveness made him one of the top big-play backs in the NFL last season. He produced 16 runs of 15 yards or more despite not becoming the full-time starter until Week 6. Only Kansas City's Kareem Hunt broke more long runs than Collins.

Collins came into this season looking to become the Ravens' first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014. He added five pounds of muscle in the offseason.

But, entering Sunday's game against Denver and the No. 7 run defense, Collins has as many fumbles (one) as touchdowns. His backup, Buck Allen, is faring worse, averaging 2.5 yards on 10 carries this season.

"We’ve had some steadiness with it," Harbaugh said. "I don’t think we’ve been hit in the backfield too many times. We’ve had a few pretty solid runs."

The longest run of the season came from Jackson, who ran for 16 yards. The Ravens have used him in 10 plays alongside quarterback Joe Flacco with mixed results. These specialized plays have produced 5 or more yards four times and have been held to zero or negative yards five times.

How will the Ravens handle Jackson's role in the offense going forward?

"I think it’s going to be week to week, game plan to game plan, game to game during the game," Harbaugh said. "There are more plays than five in the game plan for him. So, we’ll just try to do what we can do with all the weapons we have to try to put as many points up as we can. That’s really what we’re trying to do with all our guys, and I put him in the same category that way."