Ravens line paves way for Rice vs. Bears

Ravens line paves way for Rice vs. Bears
November 17, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Ravens K Justin Tucker on falling short in overtime

True, the Ravens were facing one of the worst run defenses in the league. But the Ravens' maligned running game enjoyed by far its best game of the season, totaling 174 yards rushing -- well more than twice its season average -- in the 23-20 overtime loss at windy, rainy Soldier Field.

The Ravens oft-criticized offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for large stretches of the game, beginning with Ray Rice's first carry -- a 47-yard burst down the left sideline. Left guard A.Q. Shipley had the key block that allowed Rice to burst to the second level, something he has hardly done at all this season.

Overall, there were encouraging signs for the Ravens offensive line, particularly in the run game. There were still issues, to be sure. Bernard Pierce could accomplish nothing, running 10 times for 18 yards. He ran right into the back of tackle Michael Oher on one play. On the final possession of regulation, the Ravens netted only 2 yards on two rushes from the Bears 5-yard line.

The weather, and the fact that the Ravens had been enjoying success on the ground, probably led to the two run calls at that point in the game. But then on third down, the snap from center Gino Gradkowski rolled back to quarterback Joe Flacco, and he threw incomplete. That left the Ravens to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, which sent the game to overtime.

[RELATED: Ravens fall in overtime to Chicago Bears]

Still, for a team that had been averaging less than 75 rushing yards a game, and a league-worst 2.8 yards a carry, seeing Rice reel off a 47-yarder -- and even a few 6- and 7-yarders -- is a colossal improvement over what has been easily one of the more disappointing aspects of this year's team. The Ravens averaged a season-best 4.2 yards a carry at Chicago.

"It felt good to run the ball a little better," Gradkowski said, "but the ultimate goal is to win and we couldn't pull it out."

Maybe the Ravens are finally starting to catch on to run-game coordinator Juan Castillo's zone schemes. Maybe the new-look line, with Eugene Monroe at left tackle and Shipley at left guard in place of injured Kelechi Osemele, is finally starting to gel. Maybe Rice is finally healthy. Or maybe the Bears' run defense is as bad as their No. 31 ranking suggests.

The question now is whether the run game is truly back on track. The Ravens should find out soon enough: The Jets come to M&T Bank Stadium next Sunday with the No. 1-ranked run defense in the league.

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