Rice: It's hard to run the ball when you're trailing early
This was the week the Ravens running game was supposed to get off the ground. With Ray Rice returning to action, and a healthy Bernard Pierce backing him up, the Ravens figured to finally find their footing against a Bills run defense that ranked 30th in the league.
Instead, the Ravens running game looked as inept as ever, and was pretty much put on the shelf in the second half of a thoroughly disappointing 23-20 loss to the Bills.
The Ravens ran nine times -- the fewest number in franchise history -- for just 24 yards. They ran the ball on two of 33 plays in the second half, with no rushes in the third quarter.
Rice, who returned to the starting lineup after missing last week's game with a hip flexor injury, carried five times for 17 yards. Pierce ran four times for 7 yards. The Ravens entered the game ranked 31st in the league with an average of 2.6 yards a carry, and fared only slightly better (2.7) in limited work against the Bills.
This story has been written before; at Seattle and at Jacksonville two years ago, the Ravens abandoned the running game in disappointing road losses. It was after the loss at Jacksonville that linebacker Terrell Suggs called out the offensive coaches, complaining about Rice getting just eight carries.
"You’ve got to feed the horse," Suggs said at the time.
In each of those games, the Ravens rushed just 12 times, which until Sunday, had been the record for the fewest in a game by the Ravens.
The Ravens performance against Buffalo was so stunning, so inept, that it prompted a slew of questions. Was Rice not quite ready to return? Why couldn't Pierce find any running room? What has happened to the offensive line? And have Harbaugh and Jim Caldwell lost all faith in the running game?
It's possible that Rice wasn't at 100 percent, but Pierce got nothing going either. And it was quickly apparent that the Ravens got no traction against a Bills rushing defense that gave up 182 rushing yards to the Jets last week and 158 to New England in Week 1.
On the Ravens first play from scrimmage, Rice, was stuffed for a 2-yard loss, though the play was nullified by penalty. Twice in the first half, Pierce carried on first-and-10 and gained 1 yard each time. The holes simply weren't there, even when running behind Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda.
That might be the most perplexing thing about the disappearance of the Ravens running game: It's been a season of upheaval on the Ravens roster, with a lot of new faces in new places, but the offensive line isn't one of them.
Other than Matt Birk, the Ravens offensive line returned intact from the unit that rolled through the playoffs, with Bryant Kinnie at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele at left guard, Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle.
The Ravens averaged 3.9 yards a carry in the playoffs, but 4-yard gains this season have been few and far between.
The Ravens running game issues were even more noticeable because the Bills were so successful, running 55 times for 203 yards.
"They're running the ball for 4, 5 yards atr times and putting themselves in manageable third downs and we're not doing that," Harbaugh said. "And that's tough on everybody. That's tough on our passing game, our quarterback, it's tough on everybody. We have got to learn how to do that. We've got to get to the point where we can execute in the run game."