Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice Is Key to Victory

Mike Fast@@michaelfast1Contributor IDecember 30, 2011

Ray Rice is the center of the Ravens offense
Ray Rice is the center of the Ravens offenseLarry French/Getty Images

Although the Baltimore Ravens are 11-4 and currently the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, fans around town are wondering if the team's record could've been better.

Losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego (all road games) have left fans with a bit of a bittersweet taste in their mouths.

The pessimist would say those were bad football teams, and the Ravens should've beaten every one of those opponents handily (except for maybe the Chargers).

An old Matt Hasselbeck who was in his second week with a new team, a rookie in Blaine Gabbert, a banged-up Tarvaris Jackson and the league leader in interceptions Philip Rivers were the four quarterbacks Baltimore faced in its losses.

The optimist would say the Ravens didn't lose a divisional game and didn't lose to a team in serious playoff contention at the time of each loss.

Furthermore, what may have seemed like a bad team earlier in the season may have not been the case.

At the time the Ravens faced the four opponents they eventually lost to, those opponents' combined record was 9-19 (32.1 percent).

Now, the teams the Ravens lost to have a combined record of 26-34 (43.3 percent).

To say the Ravens lost to bad teams (except in the case of Jacksonville), isn't quite true.

To say the Ravens lost those games because they didn't utilize Ray Rice enough is a different story.

In the Ravens' four losses, Rice averaged nine carries for 38.8 yards.

In the Ravens' 11 wins, Rice averaged 21 carries for 92.5 yards.

Moreover, Rice currently leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,869 (Texans running back Arian Foster is second with 1,841 yards from scrimmage.).

Here's another way to put it.

When Rice carried 11 or more times in a game this season, the Ravens are 10-1.

When Rice carried 10 times or less in a game this season, the Ravens are 1-3.

The importance of Rice getting carries is the highest it's been all season, now that the Ravens are heading into the playoffs.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has faced and overcome every challenge put in front of him by a playoff team this season. Against Pittsburgh, Houston, San Francisco and Cincinnati, Flacco is 5-0.

Has his play alone been the reason for the Ravens' success in those games? No.

His quarterback rating is currently 79.7 (20th). Only in his rookie year (2008) did Flacco finish with a worse quarterback rating (80.3, 22nd).

Flacco has proven he can win huge games like this one in Week 9 at Pittsburgh (Flacco highlight from 4:11-8:38 in video clip).

Regardless of Flacco, the Ravens defense, home-field advantage or anything else, the bottom line is this: The Ravens' success largely revolves around Ray Rice.