Things are not looking great for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens following a brutal performance in their Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The defense has looked like a shadow of their former selves and the offense is unable to put together any kind of consistency in sustaining drives. Part of the problem has been a lack of balance between the run and the pass which was on full display Sunday during Baltimore’s meltdown in upstate New York. For the Ravens to get back on track, Ray Rice needs to be the featured player in the Baltimore offense.
In his sixth season, Rice has proven himself to be a capable workhorse in the running game. He’s rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of the last four seasons while carrying the ball no fewer than 254 times. In the passing game, Rice has shown an equally adept ability to make plays, catching more than 60 passes each of the last four years with six receiving touchdowns during that time. When Ray Rice is a part of the offense, the Ravens have found success.
So far this season, however, Rice has been the forgotten man in the Ravens’ offense. Part of the problem was a hip injury that knocked Rice out of the game against the Cleveland Browns, but both Rice and the Ravens’ coaching staff have said he’s 100 percent after missing the next game against the Houston Texans. That makes his lack of touches against the Bills, ranked among the worst rush defenses in the NFL coming into Week 4, all the more baffling.
Despite never trailing by more than 13 points, Baltimore completely abandoned the run on Sunday, attempting just nine rushes the entire game. Rice got five of those attempts and gained 17 yards, averaging a season-high 3.4 yards per carry. Joe Flacco targeted him just once in the passing game but wasn’t able to complete the pass, giving Rice, arguably the most talented offensive player on the roster, a grand total of five touches the entire game.
John Harbaugh said that the running game just needed to be “better,” but it’s tough to get any kind of momentum when the starting running back only gets as many carries as interceptions thrown by the starting quarterback. Flacco, meanwhile, had quite possibly his worst game ever on Sunday, completing just 50 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and a career-high five interceptions. Despite his struggles, the play-calling kept featuring him as he dropped back to pass 54 times, a whopping 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
The Ravens made a statement this offseason making Flacco the highest paid quarterback in the NFL (briefly), saying that they believed he could be a quarterback that carried this team to wins. Through four games in 2013, he is decidedly not that kind of quarterback. Baltimore has to re-assess what it’s doing offensively, get their o-line in gear to open up some holes and feed Ray Rice the football more than the absolute bare minimum. After a quarter of the season, Rice is on pace for just 120 carries this season, his lowest total since his rookie season. That won’t cut it.
Getting back to the identity that guided them to a Super Bowl will be the key for Baltimore if they hope to right the ship this season and stay on top in the AFC North. That means more touches for Ray Rice and a more physical, smash-mouth gameplan from offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. If Rice continues to be ignored, Caldwell will find himself in the same situation as Cam Cameron did at the end of last season (unemployed) and the Ravens will be the latest victim of a Super Bowl hangover keeping them out of the playoffs.