Ja’Marr Chase was the catalyst for the Cincinnati Bengals making an unlikely run to Super Bowl LVI last season. The Baltimore Ravens don’t have a wide receiver as dynamic as Chase, but the Bengals’ AFC North rivals have one rookie tipped to make a similar impact in this season’s playoffs.
It was in the postseason where Chase went from record-breaking rookie to game-breaking weapon. His back-to-back 100-yard performances helped the Bengals overcome the Las Vegas Raiders and upset the Tennessee Titans, en route to facing the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens shouldn’t expect similar contributions from their passing game if they’re in the thick of the action come playoff time, and they should expect to be after a 6-3 start. Fortunately, these Ravens can rely instead on a punishing ground game powered by a rookie who is involved “front and center” in what his offense does best.
Rookie with Most Touches Vital for Ravens
Tyler Linderbaum is more than living up to his billing as the 25th player taken in this year’s NFL draft. The first-year center is the Ravens rookie chosen by CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards as the player capable of making a Chase-like “level of an impact this season.”
Edwards bases his argument on Linderbaum’s contribution to Baltimore’s ground attack: “Other than quarterback Lamar Jackson, Linderbaum is the only player on the Ravens offense to touch the ball every play. Baltimore’s offensive identity revolves around the run game and Linderbaum is literally front and center for the AFC contender. Baltimore averages 2.2 yards prior to contact, which is the second best mark in the league. They also rank second in yards per rush.”
Linderbaum has been growing in confidence as a run blocker and proving his worth as a physical presence during the Ravens’ first nine games. The former Iowa standout is now the best at clearing running lanes among rookie blockers, according to PFF College:
Comparing a center to an explosive pass-catcher like Chase seems like chalk and cheese, Edwards is right to hail Linderbaum’s potential impact. This Ravens team is driven by its running game, and its running backs will only go as far as the Linderbaum-led offensive line will take them.
Ravens Know the Value of Dominant Linemen
It’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Ravens to be powered to a third Super Bowl appearance by an offensive lineman. Those manning the trenches are unheralded, but teams don’t win championships without dominance up front.
The Ravens knows this better than most. Both of the franchise’s Super Bowl victories owed a lot to superior blocking.
In 2000, a formidable front five led by future Hall-of-Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden protected Trent Dilfer and paved the way for Jamal Lewis. It was a similar story 12 years later, when the Ravens rushed for over 100 yards in three of their four playoff victories. The group that knocked open those holes was underpinned by powerhouse guard Marshal Yanda.
If Linderbaum transfers his league-leading win rate in the regular season to the playoffs, the Ravens’ deep and varied rushing attack can yield a third Lombardi Trophy.
This is a run-first offense built on the dual-threat skills of quarterback Lamar Jackson. Coordinator Greg Roman is wisely still calling designed runs for the franchise signal-caller, whose speed and elusiveness force defenses to play passively.
Jackson can also handoff to a host of veteran backs, including Kenyan Drake, Gus Edwards and Mike Davis. The production speaks for itself, per Clifton Brown of Ravens.com: “Drake has stepped up to lead the backs in rushing yards (344) averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and Lamar Jackson (635 yards) is on is on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards for the third time in his career.”
Those numbers will get better the more Linderbaum continues to improve. He’s already playing like an accomplished veteran, and running behind him is the Ravens’ simplest formula for making it into the playoffs and beyond.