It’s hard to place the blame on one particular player, in terms of the Baltimore Ravens‘ struggles with the ground game in 2013, but running back Ray Rice has to garner some of the blame game, due to the fact that he’s simply been ineffective and he traditionally is a top five back in the NFL.
First and foremost, the offensive line deserves most of the blame. A blind man could see that, and while Rice and the rest of the running backs have to share some of the criticisms, the blocking for them has been atrocious, to say the least. Considering that the Ravens entered this season with 80 percent of their offensive line in tact from the Super Bowl-winning roster, yet now feature 40 percent of that collective group, that should be a telltale sign as to just how bad that group has been.
However, Rice is a guy who traditionally sees 2,000 total yards from scrimmage on a regular basis, and he won’t even come close to that total this year. To give you an idea of how bad he has been, through seven games of the NFL season (Rice missed Week 3 against the Houston Texans with a left hip injury) the 26 year old has tallied 394 total yards (259 rushing, 135 receiving) and three rushing touchdowns so far this season. He is on pace for 788 total yards and six touchdowns. The touchdown number isn’t as much of a concerning number as are the total yards, because it shows just how little Rice has been able to create big plays both on the ground and through the aerial attack, and the fact that this offense isn’t relying on him as much as in year’s past due to his ineffectiveness.
Fans can complain all they want about the ridiculous amount of check-down throws to the six-year veteran running back in year’s past, but those outlet throws for quarterback Joe Flacco have bailed him out of catastrophic situations where he could either throw an interception, toss the ball out of bounds, or be forced to scramble due to no significant receiver separation. Baltimore has been dealing with that issue once again, but even though Rice has been used in the short-passing game, for some reason, it isn’t as effective this year.
It also doesn’t help that he and backup running back Bernard Pierce have only amassed 2.7 yards-per-carry respectively. Neither running back has been able to separate themselves from the back and bust off big runs consistently, hurting this team’s ability to sustain long drives. The pair has a combined two runs of 20 yards or more (25,28) and both were by Pierce. The last 20-yard run came against the Miami Dolphins four games ago, and Rice has yet to break a run of more than 14 yards.
I think part of the blame has to go towards the coaching staff, as these two running backs seem to fit more of a power-blocking scheme as opposed to run game coordinator Juan Castillo‘s zone-blocking scheme. That being said, Pierce and Rice have been able to create their own holes in the past, and while football is a team game, Rice especially has been dancing far too often in the backfield and hasn’t been assertive enough in hitting the hole full speed. This character trait has hurt him in the past and has limited his big-play capabilities, as he sometimes has danced his way into the ground or the behinds of lineman. This time around, he is facing one-on-one shots from defenders, as they are filling the holes created by the zone-blocking scheme.
The zone-blocking scheme is designed for the offensive line to hit the first guy they see or to create a hole by taking a 45-degree step one way or another, and then it is on the running back to find and select the right hole. Yes, the holes haven’t been there, but Rice also hasn’t adjusted to this new scheme well either as his dancing tactics backfire and get him caught in trouble more than in previous seasons.
Something has to change collectively on offense, but if I had to place blame in Rice’s direction, it would probably be roughly 33 percent of the blame. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, but given his hefty contract with the team and how much they’ve relied on him offensively in year’s past, he deserves to be criticized for not living up to lofty expectations.