If you think the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are better suited with three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice being leapfrogged on the team’s depth chart, then that’s a big mistake.
It’s true that Rice is in the midst of the worst season of his six-year career, and the Ravens rank 30th in the NFL in rushing offense.
Rice, who suffered a hip flexor injury during the Ravens’ 30-9 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 3, insisted before the team’s Week 8 bye that he was 100 percent. Since declaring himself healthy, Rice has averaged just 1.62 yards per carry the last two weeks.
For the season, Rice has rushed for 289 yards on 115 carries, an average of just 2.5 yards per carry, which is the lowest among qualified NFL running backs. He has previously never averaged below four yards per carry during any season. In addition, Rice has lost the ability to make defenders miss when catching passes in the open field, averaging a career-worst 4.9 yards per reception.
One could argue that Rice’s defense of his performance this season has been that his backup, second-year man Bernard Pierce, has fallen jinx to the dreaded sophomore slump. Pierce, 22, has 261 rushing yards on 91 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per carry, which is the third lowest among qualified NFL running backs.
Rice’s down year has led to speculation that he’s lost a step, but it’s hard to imagine that at the age of 26, his days as a product runner are over.
It’s important to remember that the offensive line has struggled to adapt to offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s maligned zone-blocking scheme. As a result, it’s played a major role in limiting both Rice and Pierce’s running room.
Despite that, following the Ravens’ 20-17 overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, replacing Rice with Pierce as the team’s featured running back seemed to be the topic of discussion among many pundits . Rice managed only 30 rushing yards on 18 carries, while hauling in six receptions for 26 yards. Pierce, meanwhile, didn’t fare much better, carrying eight times for 31 yards.
Perhaps, as head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday , the Ravens would be best served by going with the hot hand at running back.
With the Ravens desperate to get any production from a running game averaging a league-low 2.8 yards per carry, both Rice and Pierce will have their chance beginning Sunday in Chicago against a Bears defense ranked 31st against the run and yielding 4.5 yards per carry.