For the Baltimore Ravens, the motto this week – emblazoned in big bold letters for the world to see – should simply read, “SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE.”
Or maybe to some, it should read, “THE TIME IS NOW“, either way, both hold the same degree of meaning for the Ravens key to success this Sunday at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.
A team that’s found themselves next to last in running the football is running out of time and excuses. Waiting in front of them, is a matchup against a Bears defensive unit that should have playmakers on the Ravens offense salivating at the very sight.
Feasting their collective eyes on a Bears unit ranked next to last in the NFL at stopping the run and totally ravaged by injuries to stalwarts in a town known for tough, physical, blue-collar defense. Sounds pretty familiar, right?
Chicago is without defensive starters Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams and Charles Tillman. Brian Urlacher is retired and doing Madden video game commercials with Ray Lewis. This isn’t the Chicago Bears defense we’ve all come to expect.
That’s why this week, more than ever, the Ravens have the opportunity to get well and try to establish the run game, despite the paltry numbers after nine games. The Ravens are 30th in rushing the football, averaging a measly 73.1 yards per game.
Since the bye week, Ray Rice has carried the ball 29 times for 47 yards. He’s dead last in the NFL, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. His health, which some have questioned since suffering the hip flexor injury in Week 2, is just an excuse now. He’s deemed himself healthy and maintains he can return to his Pro Bowl-caliber play in the last seven games of the season.
“I have no doubt at all. If I doubted myself, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I’m at full strength, that’s when the Ravens will need me is when I’m at full strength.. late in the year. I’ve been doubted my whole life, and, playing at the highest level of sports, I don’t need to prove I’m a Pro Bowler. I’ve done that three times already, and I’ve won a Super Bowl already. Proving that stuff all over again is really not in my best interests right now.”
Behind Rice, Bernard Pierce hasn’t been much better, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on 93 carries this season. Bernard Scott, signed two weeks ago by the Ravens hasn’t even suited up and been an active member of a game day roster.
Rice will be the first to tell you he’s frustrated with the way things have gone, the struggle painted on his face as the season has worn on. Yet he contends things can turn around, beginning this Sunday in Chicago.
“It might be a blessing in disguise I went through something early, and now we’re trying to get back on track, and I’m trying to get back to whatever you call full strength. I know I’m able to make those plays, I’ll leave the doubt and naysayers out there. In my career right now, where I’m at, you could talk about a stat or number, the only stat or number that really matters to me is a W.”
This has been a tough year for Rice, one where he’s been questioned if he’ll ever get back to the Rice of old. Can he live up to the hefty contract the Ravens gave him?
Rice, never the one to throw his teammates under the proverbial bus, is too much of a leader and a professional to do so. Instead, he’ll deflect criticism upon himself. But Rice isn’t stupid. He knows the reason they haven’t been able to run the football is because the offensive line has not gotten the job done.
The cause being a combination of a unit all struggling at once. Marshal Yanda who isn’t 100% has struggled inside as Gino Gradkowski‘s found his growing pains at center have been more prolonged than expected. Overhaul at the left tackle position and inconsistent play from Michael Oher on the right side have led to defenders being in the backfield quicker than Ravens backs can run out of.
This isn’t a good offensive line and hasn’t been for much of the season. And you wonder why Rice has been frustrated. It’s been a multi-dimensional problem for the Ravens, and Harbaugh told the media recently the line has to “block guys better in terms of making sure we get hats on hats all the time.”
The scheme isn’t great, but its the lineman themselves that are on the field and do the dirty work. They’re the ones blocking and creating holes for Rice and Pierce. Time to look in the mirror and dig deep.
Against the Bears defense, this has to be the week the offensive line wakes up and gives Rice and Pierce the space to run the football and for Rice himself to get back to being a potent two-way back, capable of catching passes from Joe Flacco.
So there you have it. The popular opinion seems to be blame Ray Rice for not being able to run. But you have to look deeper.
No more excuses. This Sunday in Chicago, the Ravens will look to revive what once was their calling card with muscle up front on the line. Revive things with a running style that was a big part of the offense the last few years.
If they can’t get it done collectively this week, they might not be able to get it done at all.