The Baltimore Ravens' offense has not lived up to expectations through two weeks.
In order for this offense to pick things up and for the team to look more like the defending Super Bowl champions, both Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice are going to have to be more productive out of the backfield.
This running back duo came into the season as arguably one of the best one-two punches in the NFL, right there with Ben Tate and Arian Foster with the Houston Texans or Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller with the Buffalo Bills.
Instead, the ground game has struggled for the Ravens. The two have combined for 151 yards on 53 carries, averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt.
Granted, some of that is understandable based off of who they were playing. The Denver Broncos ranked third in the NFL in run defense last year, allowing just 1,458 yards on the ground and 3.6 yards per carry. The Cleveland Browns were 19th in the league, but they were able to bring in some key offseason additions like Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger.
Things need to turn around for the run game. These two were great players out of the backfield in 2012, combining for more than 1,600 yards and averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns on the ground. Rice is also a productive player through the air, catching 61 passes last season for 478 yards and a touchdown. Through two games in 2012, Rice had already run for 167 yards and two scores while averaging more than six yards per carry.
How many yards will Rice and Pierce combine for in 2013?
These two need to get the ground game working to restore some balance to this offense. Joe Flacco has already thrown the ball 95 times in two games, way too many for the 28-year-old QB out of Delaware. To put things in perspective, he threw just 71 passes through two games in 2012 and 61 in 2011.
The schedule should provide some easier games for Pierce and Rice to break out. They will play the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in Weeks 4 and 5, and those games should help the running backs gain some confidence before playing the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
In order for the Ravens to win more convincingly against weaker teams and pull off wins against tougher ones, the rushing game is going to need to step up. Flacco may have had an incredible playoff surge with his arm, but the running game will help establish balance and keep the opposing defenses guessing.
It's never easy to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and it's certainly even harder when your backfield isn't producing.