I'm concerned about Ray Rice. He is frequently cited as the centerpiece of our offense, our most dynamic offensive weapon, and the defensive coordinator of the Steelers was quoted by the announcers tonight as saying something to the effect of Rice being the beginning and end of their defensive game planning. He is obviously thought to be of central importance to our team, but he seems to be regressing this year. In five of eight games, he's run for less than four yards per carry, including two games of less than 3ypc! With running being such a large part of our offense, his performance to date just won't cut it.
He's been less explosive through gaps, hesitant with cutbacks, and he often looks like a deer in the headlights. His size often makes him a liability in pass protection (Harrison literally ran over top of him Sunday night), and I'm just not convinced that he can be an every down back. I've seen nothing to indicate anything other than marginal leadership from him, and I never see him studying with coaches on the sideline while the defense is on the field. He's lost a boneheaded fumble in each of our playoff losses over the past two years; he just can't be relied upon in the biggest games. When is he going to put the team on his back?
Some might point out that he hasn't had elite run blocking in front of him, but that's just a petty excuse. Barry Sanders did more with less. Elite running backs can be counted upon to get their yardage, but the coaching staff didn't even trust him enough last year to use him consistently in the Red Zone. Some might also say that he provides some help in the passing game, but those people must know that stats don't tell the whole story; the eye test is more important, and Rice hasn't passed it recently. When it comes down to it, Ray Rice is just inconsistent. Sure, he has a good game here and there, but he's been up and down all season, and more down than anything else since the Houston Texans game. An elite running back would be gaining 4ypc or more at least 90% of the time against good defenses.
If he doesn't show improvement soon, I think we should sit him. Every other position on the team has to worry about playing time if they aren't performing; why should running back be any different? We have a backup running back who has shown in the past that he's capable of reliable production, possibly even at an elite level. We may need to see if Ricky Williams can give us a much needed boost, and then potentially look for a long-term answer in the draft.