Ravens running game gets nowhere again

Ravens running game gets nowhere again
November 10, 2013, 10:15 pm
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Flacco on win: 'You take them how you can get them'

The Ravens escaped with a 20-17, overtime win over Cincinnati on Sunday, but there was no escaping the sobering fact that the running game remains a project.

It was a wreck before the bye when Ray Rice was slowed by a hip injury, it remained a wreck last week in Cleveland after the bye when Rice and Bernard Pierce were supposedly rested and healthy, and it remained a wreck Sunday against Cincinnati, with the team's longest run (18 yards) coming on an end-around by backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

The Ravens entered the game averaging 2.8 yards a carry, worst in the league, and Rice (18-30) and Pierce (8-31) averaged 2.3 yards a run.

"We've got to run the ball better," coach John Harbaugh said after the game, echoing a refrain he has offered just about every week. "We've got to get our passing game going, too. Those things go hand in hand. ...  We've got to find a way to move the ball better. We will We have to."

Is Rice, who has had four straight 1,000-yard seasons, already washed up at age 26? He is on pace for about 514 rushing yards this year. Is he still not healthy? There are no more bye weeks for Rice to get better. If he isn't healthy now, he isn't likely to get any healthier down the stretch. And if he is healthy, have his skills and quickness and explosion really deteriorated that much? He is not making anyone miss any more.

Is Pierce an able replacement? Is Juan Castillo's blocking scheme still not taking hold?

There are no easy answers, but the bottom line is the season is now more than half over, and the Ravens still have not shown any ability to move the ball on the ground. Is this just the way it will be this season?

Against Cincinnati, the Ravens had 32 rushing yards in the second half, when they were held scoreless. For the second straight game, and the third time overall, neither Rice nor Pierce had a run of longer than 9 yards.

In the final two minutes, the Ravens needed one first down to ice the game. The Ravens ran on three straight plays -- forcing the Bengals to use their time outs -- but gained only 9 yards. That forced a punt, and ultimately led to the Bengals Hail Mary, game-tying touchdown in the final play.

Pierce insisted after the game that the running game is "creeping along, but it's definitely getting better." And indeed, Pierce's average carry of 3.9 was respectable -- his best in four games. But Rice averaged less than 2 yards a carry, and the Ravens won't make the playoffs that way.

"Good defenses get paid a lot to play. They get paid just like us," Pierce said. "Sometimes you're gonna win your battles, sometimes you're gonna lose."