Stop me if you've heard this before: The Ravens decide they are a passing team. Joe Flacco throws and throws and throws. They give the ball to Ray Rice only occasionally, and on the road, hardly at all.
If it sounds at all familiar, it's because that was pretty much the case in the first half of last season. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs: The Ravens realized that, well, they have Ray Rice, so maybe they are a running team after all.
Ray Rice's workload is in focus again this week after Rice had just nine carries in the Ravens' 43-13 loss to Houston. The coaches will certainly point out that handoffs to Rice can't dig the Ravens out of a 26-point halftime hole. True. But it's fair to question why Rice, who had three carries for 27 yards on the game's first possession, didn't carry it at all in the next two Ravens possessions. In fact, the Ravens' second possession went pass-pass-pass-punt.
Through six games this season, Ray Rice had 97 carries, exactly the same number as last season. Through six games this year, Joe Flacco had thrown 209 passes, two less than last season. In other words, for all the talk of this being Joe Flacco's offense this season, the workload distribution over the first six games was nearly identical.
Last season, this run-pass debate reached a crescendo in the Ravens' ninth game, an ugly loss at Seattle in which Flacco threw 52 passes and Rice had five carries. From that point on, Rice's workload increased signficantly, and the Ravens got on a roll.
After that Seattle debacle, Rice had 20 or more carries in six of the final seven games, and the Ravens went 6-1 in those games. Coincidence?
Some will say that the schedule had a lot to do with that success -- that stretch included two games with the Browns and one with the hapless Colts. But the Ravens also played the first four games in that stretch without Ray Lewis. And as Rice's workload increased, guess whose decreased? After averaging 40.1 passes in the first nine games, Flacco averaged 25.8 passes over the final seven games.
Translation: Maybe it was meant to be Joe Flacco's offense, but when the chips were down, the weather got lousy and the Ravens had to pound out a trip to the playoffs, it really was Ray Rice's offense.
This season, will this loss at Houston -- in which Flacco had 47 pass attempts (counting four sacks) and Rice had nine carries -- be a similar turning point?
To be clear, handing the ball to Rice is no easy, quick fix. Unless the defense begins to stop people, nothing else will matter. But as the Ravens showed last year, for all the talk of the new-look, sugar-huddle, pass-happy Ravens, this offense still goes as Ray Rice goes.