The Baltimore Ravens have always prided themselves on winning football games by running the ball and playing great defense. The Ravens achieved half of that against the Packers on Sunday, holding former MVP Aaron Rodgers and Co. to just 19 points.
The Ravens did not run the ball well though. In fact, it was pretty terrible. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 20 rushes for 43 yards. Ray Rice had a 2.4 yards per carry average, while Pierce rocked an even uglier 1.5. The run game produced no touchdowns and just 2 first downs.
On 27 first down plays, the Ravens ran the ball 16 times. For those 16 attempts, the Ravens averaged 1.9 yards per attempt. This put the Ravens offense at a severe disadvantage, constantly forcing second and third-and-longs. Taking the creativity out of the play calling, the Green Bay Packers were able to apply more men against the pass with confidence that their defensive line could contain any rushing attempts.
The reasons for the severe decline of Ray Rice’s and Bernard Pierce’s production go deep. So far this season, Pierce has 73 attempts for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns and Rice has 71 attempts for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns in six games. Six. Worse than that is their 2.8 yard averages. Joe Flacco could belly flop from the line of scrimmage while holding the ball out and have a longer average. (Ironically, Joe is averaging 3.6 rushing yards per attempt this season, almost a yard more the running backs.) Is it time to wonder if Ray Rice is nearing the end of his career?
The offensive line has obviously been an issue, but they are certainly not the only issue. Gino Gradkowski is having an rough transition to starting in the NFL, Marshal Yanda may have come back too quickly from shoulder surgery, Kelechi Osemele is regressing in his second year and has back issues, and Bryant McKinnie has already been replaced. And when this group does open holes (which they did a couple times today), the backs (cough Rice cough) failed to make the proper cut. With four shots at the goal line, the Ravens failed to punch it into the endzone, which could have been the difference in the game. While Eugene Monroe will help, and his presence has already been felt, he cannot play all five offensive line positions.
The coaching is also having its fair share of issues. While you can debate the decision to go for it on fourth and goal all you want, there is no questioning that something changed this offseason. With Jim Caldwell taking over as Offensive Coordinator for Cam Cameron in the middle of last season, the offense seemed to fire on all cylinders. This offseason, Juan Castillo was added as a Run Game Coordinator, and added some different zone blocking schemes into the offense. Some combination of these two has put shackles on the run game, reminiscent of the days of Cam Cameron (speaking of him, I had a vicious flash back when Marlon Brown ran an end around for -2 yards).
The run game is producing more questions than answers right now, with issues forming all the way from the players to the coaches. Their next challenge is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who still have a stingy defense that will play their best game against their biggest rival.