The Baltimore Ravens have the best running game in the NFL. That’s not an opinion, rather a solidified fact. The Ravens have gained more yards on the ground than any NFL team for two consecutive seasons. If you want to stop the Ravens, it’s no secret that you have to stop the run.
The Cleveland Browns are a great team on the ground. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are one of the best running back duos in the NFL. Nick Chubb had 1,067 yards in the 2021 season while Hunt picked up nearly 900 yards. When the Browns run game is going, Baker Mayfield’s talents get maximized and his problem areas shrink.
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t a running football team. This seems weird considering that this is the franchise of Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris, but it’s true. In the 2020 season, Ben Roethlisberger had 608 passing attempts which was the third-highest total in the NFL.
It’s probably not in the best interests of the nearly 40-year-old quarterback to keep throwing it nearly 40 times a game. The Steelers may not go back to being the ground and pound team they have often been known to be in the past, but they should be less pass-happy in 2021.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a team that wants to believe they are on the rise. One of the major reasons for that restored optimism is their young quarterback, Joe Burrow. Do you know what the best friend of a second-year quarterback is? Joe Mixon and the run game.
Stopping the run is going to be one of the most important things in each of the Ravens’ divisional match-ups. There’s a reason the Ravens kept Brandon Williams when many speculated that he would be a cap casualty. There’s a reason the Ravens brought back Derek Wolfe and L.J. Fort. There is a reason Pernell McPhee is still with the Ravens as well.
Remember when the Ravens stopped Derrick Henry in the playoffs. A lot of people didn’t see that one coming. Henry only picked up 2.2 yards per rushing attempt and was held to just 40 yards. That doesn’t happen without those players.
Williams isn’t a defensive tackle the Ravens can afford to lose. The difference between the Ravens’ run defense with Williams and without Williams has been shocking. He’s one of the best space-eating defensive tackles in the NFL. The Ravens had to restructure his contract, though they knew they couldn’t part ways with him.
In that playoff win against the Titans, Wolfe and McPhee led the way with nine tackles combined. Baltimore made a concerted effort to stick with the players responsible for stopping the most feared running back in football.
The Ravens can win the AFC North next year. Sure, they need a strong draft class and a move or two wouldn’t hurt, though they should be right in the thick of things. The Ravens have a great run game, an MVP quarterback, a strong secondary, and good run defense.
The Bottom Line:
There’s a lot going for the team, something we forget sometimes in the offseason, where team needs are all that matters. That last part about the good run defense is important. If you asked 100 people to guess the winner of the AFC North right now, most people would probably say it would be the Ravens or the Browns.
Stopping the Browns ground game could be the key to winning the third division crown in four years for the Ravens. Stopping the run is a priority for all AFC North teams. The Ravens and Browns finished eighth and ninth respectively in the league for rushing yards allowed per game. The Steelers ranked 11th in this category.
With the running games across the division only getting better and more imperative, and the strong focus on the run defense of all three teams, it’s all about the ground game in the AFC North. The Purple and Black look to hold their advantage in both rushing offense and rushing defense next season. It could be the key to being a division champion for the 2021 season.