Baltimore Ravens: For Once, Baltimore Limiting Ray Rice's Carries Made Sense
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Rice is one of the very best backs in the league, but the Ravens seem more intent than ever on passing the ball and having Rice be a short-yardage target than having him get the kinds of carries a back of his caliber, frankly, deserves.
However, Baltimore actually made the right decision in Week 4 to hold Rice to fewer than 20 carries, which seems illogical given that the blueprint to beat the Cleveland Browns is to run the ball.
Rice didn't have 20 carries in a game until last week's last-second win over the New England Patriots. In fact, in the two weeks prior to that contest, Rice had a total of just 26 carries—10 against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 and 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2. Quarterback Joe Flacco's passing numbers increased over that time, peaking on Thursday with 46 attempts and 28 completions.
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Prior to Thursday, the Browns were giving up 122.7 yards rushing per game. Though the Ravens ultimately won last night's game against Cleveland and gained 101 yards on the ground, just 49 of those belonged to Rice—and it wasn't for lack of trying.
The ideal situation is for Rice to get 20 to 25 carries per game, as a true feature back should. He was close to that baseline against Cleveland, carrying 18 carries on the night. But there was no reason for the Ravens to continue to press the run game, even though they never trailed once against Cleveland.
Simply put, Rice could not get going against a Cleveland defense that specifically prepared to put a stop to him. Yes, he broke off some good runs, including a 10-yarder that was complete with a stiff arm, but for most of the night he was controlled by the Browns, particularly defensive lineman Billy Winn.
Winn had Rice's number all night, whether it was against the run or the short-passing game. Clearly, he had done his homework on the Ravens back and made it his personal mission to keep him in check.
As such, Rice averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, after entering Thursday's matchup with a 5.8-yard average. He again took on an important role as a receiver, catching eight passes for 47 total yards.
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While the Ravens should avoid targeting Rice too heavily—especially when they are getting increased production from play-action passes and the no-huddle offense—they actually made the right decision to not continuously run the ball against a stout Browns defense.
The key to a successful offense is to not rely exclusively on the most talented players to carry the day. A top-flight offense knows when to use these players but also when to go away from them when things are not working.
While there's no doubting Rice's value to Baltimore's offense—just as there's no doubt that he could have had more opportunities to run the ball this season—there's no reason to run the ball if it's not producing the desired outcome.
This was different than in the first two weeks. Rice averaged 6.8 yards per carry against the Bengals and 6.2 against the Eagles. The run game was working, but Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron appeared to prefer the passing game even though, in the latter instance, it wasn't particularly productive. (Rice was Flacco's second-most targeted player in that game.)
For once, Rice's limited carries weren't a failure of game-planning or play-calling—it was an actual response to the defensive pressure the Browns were able to bring against Baltimore's run game.
At the very least, Cameron didn't get it wrong when deciding against relying heavily on Rice.
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