Sitting through the Baltimore Ravens’ 40-0 annihilation of the truly dreadful yet somehow 4-3 Miami Dolphins, I’m sure many Seattle Seahawks fans couldn’t help but notice the stellar play of former running back Alex Collins. The second-year man out of Arkansas rushed for a career-high 113 yards on 18 carries against the #3 run defense in DVOA, plus an additional 30 yards receiving.
Collins was, of course, cut by the Seahawks at the end of preseason, an unsurprising move given the emergence of Chris Carson, J.D. McKissic, and the considerable offseason investment in Eddie Lacy. The backfield was crowded and both he and Mike Davis had to go. It didn’t take long for Collins to find himself on the Ravens practice squad, and when injuries hit Baltimore at that position, Collins was activated prior to the team’s week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns.
As of Thursday night, Collins ranks 7th in rushing yards (478) and leads the NFL in yards per carry, at roughly 6.0. No other Ravens RB is higher than 3.6, and you probably don’t want to see the stats for Seattle. The only glaring negative for Collins is that he’s already lost two fumbles, and that’s been a problem for him since college. Still, Collins is one of the few bright spots on a Ravens offense that has been largely mediocre and often times outright terrible.
Even those who were most critical of Collins in Seattle — myself included — could at least acknowledge that he played better towards the end of last season, particularly in the final two regular season games. Hell, I even outright suggested Collins could’ve gotten the start over Thomas Rawls for the eventual playoff win over the Detroit Lions, but that’s why I’m not a coach.
For as much praise as Collins is deservedly getting for his performances, we cannot ignore the effectiveness of Baltimore’s offensive line and how much they have benefited Collins. They are ranked 7th in adjusted line yards (Seattle is 25th, by the way), and are just flat out better at run-blocking than the Seahawks. Keep in mind that this is a unit that has seen right tackle Ricky Wagner leave in free agency, starting left guard Alex Lewis lost for the season in August, rookie guard Nico Siragusa out with ACL, MCL, and PCL tears in the same month, and starting right guard Marshal Yanda suffer a season-ending ankle injury in week 2.
As you can tell, this is a heavily revamped offensive line compared to last season, and they are performing at a high-level in the running game, and certainly better than 2016. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is the only first-round draft pick among the group, while three of Thursday’s starters (Matt Skura, Austin Howard, and James Hurst) went undrafted. While Howard is a veteran who’s bounced around the league, Skura and Hurst have only ever been with the Ravens, with the second-year Skura getting a recent promotion to the 53-man roster after Yanda’s injury. Hurst has 24 starts to his name since he joined the Ravens in 2014.
Meanwhile, in Seattle...
"Why wasn't Alex Collins good with the Seahawks?" pic.twitter.com/BNl4hNkFuh— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) October 27, 2017
"Why wasn't Alex Collins good with the Seahawks?" pic.twitter.com/zBEjUAtt3u— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) October 27, 2017
Which part of this Alex Collins run did you enjoy more: the unblocked LB (#59) or him getting tackled by his own lineman (the LG)? pic.twitter.com/guoRrcJPdl— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) October 27, 2017
Let’s go back to Baltimore...
Wow, Alex Collins is capable of running through a hole that is 10 yards wide, I can't believe the Seahawks were dumb enough to cut him! pic.twitter.com/uKmhHD7NTG— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) October 27, 2017
All the Ravens fans in my mentions last night saying their OL isn't good have no idea what a bad OL actually looks like pic.twitter.com/hF6mP6psZk— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) October 27, 2017
I’m sure this is going to yield a lot of “should’ve kept Collins and never signed Lacy” or perhaps a “should’ve cut Rawls and kept Collins” debate, but just because he’s producing for the Ravens doesn’t necessarily mean he’d have been as effective if he remained with the Seahawks. You’ve watched the blocking, haven’t you?
Regardless of playing the “hindsight is 20/20” role, in the span of two months, Collins has gone from Seattle’s 5th option at running back to establishing himself as Baltimore’s lead guy, and he’s certainly one of the bigger surprises through the first-half of the NFL season.