The Baltimore Ravens‘ running game was abysmal in 2013 and was one of the main reasons as to why the offense faltered with regularity.
The struggles of both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce could be attributed to a poor offensive line throughout the entire campaign, but part of the blame game must be directed their way as they both had to be better each time they touched the ball. Rice averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and Pierce 2.9. I’ll give Pierce more of a pass even though he’s supposed to be that change-of-pace runner only because he is a second-year pro. However, the impact of these two getting little to no push from the backfield and gaining little yards through the aerial attack hurt this offense’s chances to become dynamic.
So, how do the Ravens fix this? Is it something that Rice and Pierce need to work on or something else?
Take a look at the Carolina Panthers. They don’t have the most gaudy offensive numbers on the ground — 11th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 126.6 — but they have multiple guys who know how to carry the football despite not having one single 1,000-yard rusher this season. Sure, DeAngelo Williams was the team leader with 843 rushing yards on 201 attempts, but Rice just had 660 for Baltimore on 214 as the Ravens were 30th in the league in rushing with 83.0 yards per game. The Panthers also has quarterback Cam Newton, bruising running back Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart, who took more of a backseat due to injury this season. Four possible threats running the football can give any defensive coordinator nightmares and while Joe Flacco isn’t going to be running up and down the sidelines like the much more agile Newton, a new piece may need to be added. After all, a good defense and ground game propelled the Carolina Panthers to 12-4 and a first-round bye in the NFC.
So what am I suggesting? A powerful running back who can get short-yard gains that keep the chains moving.
Whether it’s through the draft or in free agency, Baltimore needs back what they lost this year: their identity. Third-and-short was the Ravens’ nemesis this season and resulted in almost no-brainers in terms of bringing out the punt or field goal team following the conversion attempt. Teams weren’t afraid to size up Baltimore due to their ineffectiveness up front and their running backs not being able to find or create any holes. The Ravens used to be a team that would come to punch anyone in the mouth and ultimately try to break their opponent’s will. Rice and Pierce couldn’t do that this season and may not be able to again.
I’m not suggesting Vonta Leach become a running back. What I am suggesting is the Ravens find a situational runner who can break tackles and ultimately gain yards when the Ravens need them most. No matter how they do it, they have to bring back their physical presence or else teams will waltz all over them in 2014 like they did in 2013.