The face of the Baltimore Ravens, at least on the offensive side of the ball, is without question Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
|Photo by: Rob Carr|
Barring a major collapse in the final 4 games of this season, that streak looks to continue.
Granted, Baltimore's recent success cannot be solely attributed to Rice, but he is certainly a major cornerstone of the franchise.
And the fact of the matter is, the Ravens' chances of winning games are greatly improved when they rely heavily on No. 27.
In order for Baltimore to put themselves in a good position to win, it seems that the minimum number of carries Rice should get is 18. Since becoming the full-time starter in 2009, the Ravens are 32-4 (including the playoffs) when he has 18 or more carries.
To add to that already impressive record, those 4 losses came against a Super Bowl bound Colts team (2009), on the road to the Steelers (2009), on the road and in overtime to the Patriots (2010), and on the road again in the AFC Championship Game to New England (2011).
However, when Rice receives less than 18 carries in a game, the team is only 14-17 (including playoffs).
You would think it'd be a no-brainer to just hand the ball to "Big Play Ray" a whole bunch of times every single game, yet it's evident that coach John Harbaugh doesn't fully grasp that concept.
The Ravens just lost at home to the arch-rival Steelers and their 3rd-string quarterback in Week 13, and much of it can be pinned on the fact that the best offensive weapon wearing black and purple only received 12 carries in the game. To add to that offensive stat-line (pun intended), Rice didn't touch the ball the entire 4th quarter.
What a joke.
And it's not like Rice was having a bad game to where he shouldn't have been getting his touches. He had piled up 78 yards on those minimal amount of rush attempts, and had broken off a 34-yard scoring run on his second to last carry of the 3rd quarter to give Baltimore a 7-point lead. The Ravens still had that one score lead heading into the 4th. What a perfect time for a heavy dose of Rice.
Instead, they chose to try and throw the ball.
After halting Pittsburgh's first 4th quarter drive with an interception, Baltimore decided they needed Joe Flacco to repeatedly drop back to pass. They completed a 6-yard throw to Anquan Boldin on 1st down, then ran the ball for -1 yard with rookie running back Bernard Pierce.
Yes, a rookie got the only carry of the 4th quarter in a heated rivalry game.
To make things worse, Flacco was strip-sacked on the next pass attempt, giving the Steelers the ball with great field position, which they soon used to tie the game.
Okay, that kind of stuff happens. No big deal. The Ravens should be fine, right? It's still a tied contest and they get the ball back with 7:24 to go. They just need to put it in their best player's hands, chew up some clock, get a score, and they'll win the game.
But what do they do? Harbaugh calls 4-straight pass plays, the drive stalls, and they end up having to punt. As a result, Baltimore only used up a little over a minute off the clock.
The Steelers then go on to put together a beautiful 61-yard drive, utilizing every single second still remaining on the clock in the process, and kick the game-winning field goal.
The difference between both teams' last possessions of the game? Pittsburgh ran the ball 6 times and passed on 5 plays, while Baltimore didn't attempt a rush at all.
It is incomprehensible how the Ravens don't rush the ball more with Rice. Pierce had 8 rushes in the contest, and he wasn't bad, accumulating 34 yards.
But those were attempts taken away from Rice and his big time playmaking ability.
Even if Harbaugh decides (for some strange reason) they aren't going to run the ball that much, at least give Rice some touches in the passing game. He's proven to be one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL.
Anyone remember the 4th-and-29 play from Week 12?
But of course, Rice was only targeted twice during the Pittsburgh game, pulling in 1 reception for 5 yards.
While it's unknown why Harbaugh isn't using Rice as much as expected, one possibility might be that he doesn't want to overwork his franchise running back -- and understandably so. As we all know, running backs have a short life span in the NFL because of the constant beating they take.
But Rice is only 25-years-old and has not suffered any major injuries. He has played in every game since being named the full-time starter in 2009. There's no reason for them to try and "save" him, when he's been very sturdy throughout his career and will only become more injury prone as he gets older.
Plus, with an aging group of core players, the Ravens' window for winning is getting smaller and smaller.
As it is, Baltimore's D isn't living up to the high standards they have set throughout the team's history. Injuries are a main reason why this is so, but nevertheless, the defense is struggling at the moment.
What can solve this problem? Sometimes the best defense -- is good offense.
If the defense continues to play the way they have been as of late, they will have a tough time beating the elite teams and reaching the Super Bowl this year. Therefore, it is imperative that the offense steps it up, and the best way to do so is by giving the ball to Rice.
There's no doubt that controlling the time of possession and grinding it out with No. 27 is the Ravens best bet to making a deep playoff run this season.
Prior to Sunday, the last time Rice received less than 15 total touches in a game was Week 7 against Houston.
Baltimore got clobbered that game, 43-13.
Consequently, Harbaugh seemed to take notice, because Rice earned 25 carries and 2 receptions the following week, helping the Ravens come away with a victory.
Expect plenty of touches for Rice this Sunday against Washington.