The Baltimore Ravens made RB Ray Rice their single feature back for the 2011 season, choosing not to re-sign both RB Wilis McGahee and FB LeRon McClain. While Rice assumed a much bigger role in 2010, making both players expendable in the team's eyes, McGahee scored 12 touchdowns on just over 100 carries, most in short yardage situations. In the 2008 season, McClain scored ten TD's in a more extensive role in Rice's rookie season.
After letting both of these two players walk into free agency, the Ravens signed free agent fullback Vonta Leach, mainly for blocking duty, then picked up veteran RB Ricky Williams to spell Rice now and then and keep his wear and tear to a relative minimum. That left Rice pretty much as the one to make the plays and not only did he succeed, he became one of the best running backs in the NFL and was the league-leader in yards from scrimmage this season.
However, without a true short yardage or goal-line back, the Ravens had to rely on the diminutive Rice to punch the ball in on the opponent's goal line and while he scored 12 touchdowns in the regular, he has had problems in short-yardage situations and on the goal line.
In Sunday's 20-13 Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, Rice was unable to score from the one-yard line three times, as well as not being able to get the one yard that would have given the Ravens a first down with under two minutes to go, which would have allowed the Ravens to run out the clock instead of giving the Houston Texans one more chance at a miracle finish.
After a Texans fumble on a punt return early in the game gave Baltimore the ball on the two yard line, two Ray Rice runs netted only one yard and while QB Joe Flacco hit reserve TE Kris Wilson for a one-yard TD pass on third down, the fact was that Rice could not get into the end zone.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the Ravens moved the ball down to Houston's 4-yard line and on second down, Rice was stopped for no gain, yet fumbled ahead to the two-yard line. A Flacco sneak gained a yard, but on fourth down Rice was stuffed again and the ball went over to the Texans on downs.
The Ravens won the game, but this has not been the only time that the Ravens could not get the first down on either third or fourth and short plays this season. For whatever reason, the ravens do not feel comfortable to have Ricky Williams fill the role of a short yardage or goal-line back, despite outweighing Rice 230-212 pounds.
Will Ray Rice continue to be the one to get the ball with one yard needed in critical situations? For the rest of this year, it seems most likely, but for 2012 and beyond, this is certainly an issue that should be worthy of consideration.