With the league’s 28th-ranked rushing offense, it is no secret that the Baltimore Ravens have struggled to run the ball so far this season. With a Pro Bowler in Ray Rice and an heir apparent in Bernard Pierce, why the Ravens have been spinning their tires, and whether or not the team can fix these problems, is worthy of examination.
One obvious development has been the injury surrounding Rice. Rice went down early in the fourth quarter of the team’s second game, missed the entirety the contest against the Houston Texans, and did not look explosive in the fourth.
In games three and four, Pierce, who last season looked like the new complementary banger to go with Rice, averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per carry. So, assuming Rice has not hit the running back wall (though there is some evidence to support the notion that he has) and Pierce is still the same player that averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie, why has it all gone so terribly wrong?
Part of it has been the performance of the Ravens’ $120 million man, Joe Flacco. After a dominant playoff hot streak, Flacco has been somewhere between ordinary and abysmal throughout the first quarter of this season.
Against the Denver Broncos, Flacco committed two crucial interceptions and accumulated the majority of his 362 passing yards after the game was out of reach in a 49-27 blowout loss. Against the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, mediocrity proved to be enough, as the defense dominated both opponents.
Flacco was an efficient game manager in those games as he completed two thirds of his passes for one touchdown in the victories.
Then came the five-interception debacle against the Buffalo Bills. Flacco’s interceptions surely hurt any opportunities to establish a running game, but not as much as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s decision to have his quarterback chuck the ball 50 times in a game that was winnable throughout.
Perhaps Caldwell feared left tackle Bryant McKinnie was still hung over from the Sweet Pea’s Party Bus. He and the rest of the offensive line certainly looked like it, which may be why the team traded for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ left tackle Eugene Monroe.
McKinnie has been in and out of coach John Harbaugh’s doghouse since he entered Baltimore, and has indeed tried his coaches’ patience since he was drafted seventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings 13 years ago. It was almost begrudgingly that Harbaugh reinstated McKinnie late last season in the midst of the Ravens’ late-season run.
If Monroe can perform up to his draft status (eighth overall in 2009), this may be the end of McKinnie in Baltimore. The hope is that the change of scenery will spark Monroe, and have a ripple effect along the offensive line that will carry the rushing attack offense into the season’s midway point.
For now, Ravens fans must hope that Rice’s hip injury is not worse than he and the team are letting on. Though he missed only a week, non-contact injuries can often by the most critical, and we will have to wait and see if Rice regains his explosiveness.
From there, Flacco must rebound from his latest setback as he has before, and force defenses to again respect the pass. This in turn will open up creases for Rice and Pierce as the O-Line to establishes a rhythm. Assuming Rice’s health is in good order, the Ravens’ problems in the running game are fixable, but it will take a team-wide effort. The play calling must be better, the quarterback smarter and those carrying the rock must simply be better.
If all of these aspects of the game come together, the Ravens’ quarter-pole mediocrity will be a distant memory as Flacco, Rice and Harbaugh enjoy another run to the playoffs.