I spoke with a few Baltimore Ravens fans yesterday about this very topic following the Ravens’ 20-17 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and initially I thought those that said “Ray Rice is done” were foolish.
But now that I’ve stepped back and digested a few things I think there may be some merit to that statement.
Keep in mind, this is Rice’s sixth NFL season and he already has a whole lot of tread on those tires. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about Rice as a virtual lock for 2,000 yards from scrimmage every season. He was never a world-beater when it came to touchdowns, but it seemed as if a little more pressure was relieved for the 26-year-old running back when the Ravens added a solid north-south complement to the usually shifty Rice in Bernard Pierce last season.
Neither has been stellar this season, and while the Ravens offensive line has been abysmal to say the least there’s something more to this situation with Rice that I think we possibly may be overlooking. It’s somewhat similar to the argument that is often overlooked in regards to the Joe Flacco monster contract in the offseason following Baltimore’s Super Bowl XLVII victory. These guys had all of the leverage in the world against their organization because they were the firsts to do a lot of things for this franchise since its inception in 1996.
I don’t think Rice is injured. And if he is I don’t want to hear that argument. It irked me when I found out that Kelechi Osemele was playing with a serious injury and hurting his team more than he was actually benefiting them.
All football players and athletes should realize: It is okay to play hurt. In fact, if you play a contact sport and aren’t playing hurt, you are either keeping the bench from flying away or you just aren’t trying hard enough. There’s a difference between hurt and injured, however, and given that Rice is a running back I think it’s fair to say he is playing hurt. If he is injured he knows he must remove himself from the game — period.
Playing injured never won anyone a medal and it doesn’t win football games. I don’t think that is the issue with Rice, and I think the tread on those tires have seen their better days.
What does NFL stand for? Okay, not National Football League — “Not for long.”
Rice is in his sixth season and fifth as a full-time starter. He missed his first game in 2013 since his rookie year back in 2008. The touches are down and he hasn’t been as effective like he was during his two seasons of over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2009 and 2011. From 2009-2012, Rice touched the ball an average of 346.75 times both running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. That’s a lot to ask from a 5-foot-8, 212-pound running back and not expect him to wear down. While Rice has steered clear of the injury report most of his career, his years of domination may be behind him because of the position he plays.
Remember a certain guy by the name of Larry Johnson? The former Penn State Nittany Lion was a stud for the Kansas City Chiefs for a whopping two seasons and then virtually disappeared off of the NFL landscape.
In his two best years of his career in 2005 and 2006, Johnson touched the football an average of 413 times, including 416 rushing attempts in 2006. Keep in mind he was initially a guy who split time with another running back — much like Rice to start his career — in Priest Holmes, after he himself started to lose some stamina and tread on his own tires. After that monster year in 2006, Johnson was virtually invisible across the league and never returned to that Pro Bowl form. Rice is going through something similar and may never recover.
People seem to forget that he was used quite extensively at Rutgers along with Brian Leonard. Those touches have taken their toll as well. Look at Rice’s numbers this year: 115 carries, 289 yards, three touchdowns, 33 receptions, 161 yards, zero touchdowns. Rice has 29 carries for 47 yards since the team’s bye week, good for a 1.62 yards-per-carry. I know the sample size is only two games, but his long rush in that span is five yards.