Running game carries the load for Ravens

Running game carries the load for Ravens
September 15, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Harbaugh is 'wait and see' on Rice's injury

The Ravens trudged to the locker room at halftime without a point, their offense in no rhythm whatsoever.

But after calling running plays on just seven of 30 snaps in the first half, the Ravens made a concerted commitment to the running game right away after halftime, and that proved to be critical in their 14-6 win over the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

After rushing nine times in the first half -– and two of those were scrambles by quarterback Joe Flacco -– the Ravens ran nine times on their opening series of the second half. The 12-play, 80-yard drive ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Bernard Pierce that gave the Ravens the lead for good after Justin Tucker’s extra-point kick.

The Ravens got a major scare in the fourth quarter when Ray Rice fell to the ground in pain without being hit. Rice left under his own power, and coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Rice was dealing with a left hip flexor strain. Harbaugh sounded optimistic and said no MRI was scheduled. Rice was not available for comment after the game.

No one said it would be easy to run against the improved Cleveland front seven, and it wasn’t. The Ravens totaled 99 rushing yards on 36 carries, an average of 2.8 yards a pop.

But with the passing game still struggling to get on track, the Ravens put the game in the hands of Rice and Pierce and essentially challenged the Ravens offensive line to win this AFC North slugfest in the trenches.

“Our offensive line really came through in the second half, especially in the last eight minutes or so,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh also gave credit to offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell for not hitting any panic buttons after the Ravens fell behind 6-0 at halftime.

 “Jim was very patient,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to get back to the run in the second half and he did a great job with that.”

“They kept their poise,” he added. “Coach Caldwell is a calming presence and that’s a plus.”

In the first half, Rice had 13 yards on five carries. He had more than that on the first play of the second half, running off left tackle for 14. Pierce and Rice shared time on that drive, which included three third-down conversions by Flacco, and then Pierce capped the drive by powering into the end zone.

“I definitely think it gave us the momentum, and it gave us the confidence to keep running the ball and putting pressure on their front seven,” Pierce said.

Rice, who finished with 36 yards on 13 carries, was hurt early in the fourth quarter, leaving the running game in the hands of Pierce the rest of the way. The Ravens earlier this week signed Shaun Draughn as a third running back, but he was a game-day inactive.

After the Ravens took a 14-6 lead on Flacco’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown, the Ravens were able to eat clock and yardage with a continued commitment to the run. There were a couple of big third-down throws as well, but Pierce carried six times in an eight-play series that ate up nearly four minutes late in the fourth quarter.

Then, facing third-and-4 in the final two minutes, Pierce (19 carries, 57 yards) powered around left end for the first down that essentially clinched the win.

“It was a long fourth quarter, but someone had to do it,” Pierce said. “Someone had to grind out those runs.”