Harbaugh: Run game "not where it needs to be"

Harbaugh: Run game "not where it needs to be"
September 23, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Harbaugh on improving Ravens: 'We're on our way'

The Ravens lined up on third-and-1 with Bernard Pierce lined up behind All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach.  Pierce took the handoff but, Texans linebacker Joe Mays burst into the backfield and hammered Pierce for no gain.

It was yet another unproductive running play by the Ravens, something that has been happening with alarming regularity this season. Through three games, the Ravens have averaged 2.6 yards a carry; only the woeful Jaguars average less.

That number, coach John Harbaugh said on Monday, is "going to come up dramatically before the season is over and sooner. We’ve played some very good fronts; I don’t want to minimize the fact that we’ve had to block some good people."

True, but the the offensive line is virtually intact from their playoff run a year ago. Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach is back. Certainly exchanging Gino Gradkowski for Matt Birk at center can't be the only reason that the run game has struggled.

"It’s not just a matter of just one-on-one knocking somebody off the ball," he said. "That’s not the way it works. It’s way more complicated than that up front. And like the passing game, when we talked precision, there’s a precision to the run game, too. It’s something that we don’t quite have ironed out yet against good fronts, and we’ve got to get there."

Ray Rice missed the Houston game with a hip flexor injury, but he has yet to get on track, either. Through two games, Rice has carried 25 times for 72 yards, an average of 2.9 yards. Pierce has averaged 2.8 yards on 52 carries. He reeled off a 25-yarder against Houston, but totaled 45 yards on his other 23 carries. Shaun Draughn, signed as a No. 3 back and kick return option after Jacoby Jones was injured, carried four times for 2 yards in his Ravens debut on Sunday.

Harbaugh indicated on Monday that there's a chance Rice could return against the Bills on Sunday.

Last season, the Ravens averaged 4.3 yards a carry in the regular season, which ranked 12th in the league. They averaged 3.9 yards a rush in the playoffs.

Through three games the Ravens have averaged 77.3 rushing yards a game, 25th best in the league.

"Our run game is not where it needs to be," Harbaugh said. "We’re going to go to work on that – we have been working on it. We’ll continue to do so, and we need to make that important. One thing we’ve seen that, philosophically, we’re going to stick with it."

Although the Ravens gave quarterback Joe Flacco the $120 million contract, the running game is still considered vital to the Ravens' success. That was already true given nasty Northeast weather in November and December, and the Ravens depleted and underwhelming receiving corps this season only exacerbates that.

"We’re going to be able to run the ball here," Harbaugh said. "It is a part of our DNA, and it is part of who we are as a football team."