Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer 15d

Making the case that Ravens' midseason MVP isn't even on roster

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The leading candidate for the Baltimore Ravens' midseason Most Valuable Player is cornerback Jimmy Smith, who's been the top playmaker on turnover-forcing defense. Another popular choice is Alex Collins because the running back is the most explosive weapon on offense.

But Baltimore's true MVP -- Most Valuable Person -- is senior offensive assistant Greg Roman. Despite a series of tough injuries and a lack of additional resources, Roman has turned one of the league's worst rushing attacks into one of the NFL's best.

The Ravens rank No. 8 in the NFL in running the ball, averaging 120.9 yards per game. This comes a season after Baltimore was No. 28 in the league with 91.4 yards rushing per game.

This is a credit to Roman, the tight ends coach whose more accurate job description is run game coordinator.

"The constant push is to really improve it," Roman said during Baltimore's bye week. "How can we get it better? I think once the season is over, if we earn the right to be at the top, then that’ll be time when we can really look back and say, ‘Wow, look at what we accomplished.’ But we have a lot of work yet to do."

Roman joined the Ravens this offseason after they set franchise records for fewest rushing attempts each of the last two seasons. Baltimore brought him in to fix a run game that had fallen in despair since Gary Kubiak left after the 2014 season.

His challenge was heightened after Baltimore lost its starting two guards (Pro Bowl player Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis) and running back Kenneth Dixon to season-ending injuries. Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk left in free agency and the front office decided not to upgrade the lead running back spot either in free agency or the draft.

Somehow, the Ravens are on pace for their second-highest rushing total in a season since 2009 by relying on Collins, who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the preseason, and going with James Hurst (who had never lined up at guard previously) and Matt Skura (a practice squad player a year ago) on the interior.

The Ravens have gained over 130 yards rushing in five of their nine games this season. Baltimore is 4-1 in those games and 0-4 when it's held under that mark.

"We basically revamped the run game completely, and we went to a whole other philosophy," coach John Harbaugh said. "The philosophy was more along the lines of a multiple run game and a more game-plan-oriented type of a run game. We are trying to create angles; we are trying to create numbers advantages wherever we can."

How Roman has drastically improved the run game shouldn't come as a surprise. His impact has been felt immediately in other places.

In 2011, Roman's first season as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, the 49ers went from No. 19 in NFL rushing to No. 8. In 2015, the Bills' run offense jumped from No. 25 to No. 1 in Roman's first year as the playcaller, improving by a whopping 59.4 yards per game.

Arriving in Baltimore, Roman took over a Ravens rushing attack that ran for an average 91.9 yards per game over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Only the Chargers and Lions averaged fewer yards in that time.

Through nine weeks, the Ravens are averaging 29 more rushing yards per game. In turning around the run game, Roman has also changed the mindset as well.

"I think some weeks we've been as consistent as you may find; others, we need to keep pushing for that and not take any little detail for granted," Roman said. "I think it's going to come down to the details, and the fundamentals of things. That's always been the case. Running the football, though, starts with having the right attitude, and I think our guys have that attitude."

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