What should the Ravens address?
The kind of rushing performance the Patriots had Saturday night was something the Ravens could never count on this season. LeGarrette Blount rushed for four touchdowns. That is the same amount of rushing touchdowns Ray Rice had the entire season. Tom Brady threw for less than 200 yards, yet the Patriots relied on their running game to pound the Colts, 43-22.
Rice’s disappointing season (660 yards, 3.1 yards per carry) was a topic of the Ravens’ post-season press conference last week. Rice added weight, hoping it would make him more powerful and durable. However, Rice lost some of his elusiveness, and he was also hampered by a hip flexor suffered in Week 2. When Newsome and Rice met after the season, they agreed Rice would take a different offseason approach.
“Ray was one of the players I sat down with last week,” Newsome said last week. “I think Ray is committed to being as good a football player as he has been. We had great dialogue yesterday on what we think we can do to help Ray get there. Him having a willingness to work his butt off, we will again have Pro Bowl running back in Ray Rice next year.”
At this point, the Ravens have to hope Rice will bounce back at age 26. He still has three years left on a five-year, $35 million contract, and backup Bernard Pierce also had a disappointing season. The Ravens’ offensive line had major problems all season, making it even more difficult for Rice and Pierce to be effective.
The Patriots showed Saturday how valuable a strong running game can be in the postseason. The Ravens never made it to the postseason, partly because their running game never got going. If that is going to change, it starts with Rice. Next season, the Ravens hope Rice returns to being a 1,000-yard rusher. If that happens, the Ravens will have a better chance of returning to the playoffs.