Ravens would need to overlook pet peeve in order to pursue Ryan Mathews

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens can use an upgrade in the backfield, and Ryan Mathews just became the top available running back after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday.

It's just far from a slam-dunk move. The Ravens, who lack an established 1,000-yard rusher, would have to overlook Mathews' lack of ball security in order to pursue him.

Mathews' 20 fumbles are the most in the NFL since 2010 (his first NFL season) and are two more than anyone else in the league over that span. Holding on to the ball is one of coach John Harbaugh's biggest tenets. Just ask Ray Rice, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen, all of whom had their playing time reduced after coughing up the ball.

It's not a coincidence that Baltimore has had the third-fewest fumbles lost with 73 since Harbaugh became the Ravens' coach in 2008.

"You play the best players, and at running back, the best players don’t fumble," Harbaugh said in December 2015.

Still, the Ravens' current situation could cause them to take the risk. Mathews is a decisive downhill runner who hits the hole hard. He’s a physical playmaker who isn’t afraid to lower his head to get extra yards.

While the Ravens have other needs, Baltimore's backfield is marginal in terms of running the ball. Terrance West, the current starter, is a career 3.9-yard per carry runner who has never gained more than 774 yards in a season. Allen, the top backup, was a healthy scratch for the final four games last season. Danny Woodhead, a key free-agent pickup, will make his biggest impact in the passing game.

Mathews is a back who can still be productive behind a banged-up offensive line. His 2,261 yards after first contact ranks as the 10th-most in the NFL since 2010.

He can bring punch to a Ravens running game that has totaled the third-fewest rushing yards over the past two seasons. His 4.4 yards per carry average is the sixth-best in the league over the past seven seasons.

The risk with Mathews -- other than his fumbling -- is whether he'll be on the field. Mathews has appeared in all 16 games in just one season, and he's been sidelined for 26 games over seven seasons (an average of nearly four per season).

He's coming off a season ended by a herniated disk in his neck, which has stopped him from practicing this offseason and in training camp. The Ravens may not want to roll the dice with a not-so-durable running back, especially after how injuries have hit the team this preseason.

Baltimore, though, had the second-worst backfield in the NFL entering training camp, according to Pro Football Focus. Only the Indianapolis Colts were worse, and this was before the Ravens lost Kenneth Dixon for the season with a knee injury.

Mathews would definitely improve Baltimore's ground game. He had to make a strong impression on the Ravens last December, when he ran for 128 yards and scored a touchdown against them in Baltimore. He just isn't the ideal fit in the Ravens' philosophy.