Another 1,000-yard season would put Ray Rice in elite company.
Rice is looking to top 1000 yards for the fifth straight year, after rushing for 1,143 yards in 2012. Among active running backs, only Steven Jackson of the Falcons has a longer current streak with eight consecutive 1000-yard campaigns. Emmitt Smith has the all-time record with 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1991-2001.
How often Rice touches the football is a hot-button topic for the Ravens. Because of his explosiveness as both a runner and a receiver, getting Rice the football is an offensive priority. Rice’s incredible 30-yard catch and run against the Chargers, on fourth-and-29, was a signature moment of the Ravens’ season. Rice also had a huge playoff game against the Broncos, rushing for 130 yards on 30 carries.
The Ravens have a history of struggling offensively when Rice is not a focal point. They were 2-4 last season during games in which Rice had fewer than 15 carries. Former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was often criticized for not getting Rice the football enough. However, the Ravens do not want to overwork Rice, because they need him to be fresh both late in games and late in the year.
Rice has been extremely durable, having played every game the past four seasons, but rookie running back Bernard Pierce played well as Rice’s understudy. It would not be surprising to see Pierce’s role expand. Many NFL teams prefer a two-back system as a change of pace, and to keep both backs fresh. Pierce does not have Rice’s elusiveness or pass-catching ability, but Pierce is a bigger back. He proved last season that he is more than capable when Rice needs a blow.
At age 26, Rice remains in his prime years as a running back, and his big-play ability is a valuable dimension to the offense. Another 1,000-yard season would hardly be surprising. In fact, the Ravens have gotten used to it.