Baltimore, it's time to leave Ray Rice alone.
Watching Rice once again speak to the media and have so many questions asked about the running game caused me to hit a breaking point. Now, I need to sound off.
Rice is a consummate professional, teammate and leader. Unfortunately for Rice, those same qualities have subjected him to more criticism than he's deserved.
Do you seriously think Rice would throw any of his teammates under the bus to the media?
Do you think Rice would ever publicly criticize his coaching staff for not putting him in the best situation to succeed? Or at least word responses in a way that their personnel decisions have caused him to struggle? (i.e. reducing fullback Vonta Leach to a spectator.)
If you answered "yes" to any of the aforementioned questions, just stop reading this because it won't make sense to you.
I know Will Smith's wife is from Baltimore, but I haven't seen him running around the locker room with a Men In Black memory eraser zapping members of the Ravens backfield. Rice didn't forget how to play football within the past seven months. What happened is a tremendous amount of turnover along an offensive line that has been stripped its talent and size to get the job done. Plain and simple.
Today's football fan judges everyone as if the NFL is a fantasy league versus understanding the real causes to the problems. Sure, are Rice's 450 all-purpose yards and 2.5 yards-per-carry average a disappointment? Absolutely.
Did backup running back Bernard Pierce forget how to play football as well? He's down from 4.9 yards-per-carry last year to a whopping 2.8 this season. For some reason, many fans think Pierce should be starting over Rice. If both guys can't even average 3.0 yards per carry, please look elsewhere for the problem because it's not in the backfield.
On Wednesday, Rice declared himself as "full strength" and has been like that for at least two weeks now. In the most professional and public relations friendly way possible, he hinted at the problem saying he "just hasn't had the chance to show it."
My translation: My offensive line stinks and they can't create a single hole for me to run though.
Many want to criticize Rice because of his income, signing his name to a five-year, $35 million contract. Yes, sometimes the amount of money athletes (mostly in other sports) are paid is sickening. But when you get to know a person like Rice off the field, you see how much of that he puts back into a city he's adopted as his own.
You have to feel for Rice. Many of the people that have benefited from his causes around Baltimore are the same that are now criticizing him for his play. Somehow they forget the three Pro Bowl appearances or what his contributions were during last year's Super Bowl season.
Did you already forget about 4th-and-29? C'mon.
The bottom line is that Baltimore is better with Ray Rice as a part of it — not just in the community but on the football field as well. If you give Rice somewhat of an upgrade at offensive line, he'll be the same ol' smiling and flexing running back we've seen in the end zone from years past.
People are too quick to label someone as a scapegoat without understanding the problem. This may not be the sexy fantasy football answer, but the problem is the offensive line. Until people understand that, Rice will continue to be falsely blamed.
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