Breaking Down Ray Rice's Versatility in the Ravens Offense

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Breaking Down Ray Rice's Versatility in the Ravens Offense
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Rice can leave defenders in his dust. He just needs the ball to do so.

When the Baltimore Ravens feed Ray Rice, good things tend to happen. That’s because he’s one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. The Ravens need to get him the ball because he provides the balance that prevents the offense from imploding.

The past two weeks are a great example of how important Rice is to the offense.

The Importance of Getting Ray Rice Involved
Game No. of Touches for Rice Pass Attempts Third-Down Efficiency Red-Zone Efficiency Time of Possession
At Buffalo Bills (Week 4) 5 50 3/16 (19%) 1/4 (25%) 23:34
At Miami Dolphins (Week 5) 33 32 6/16 (38%) 2/3 (67%) 36:16

Baltimore won the game where Rice had more touches, but they were both close games that could have gone either way. The point is not the outcome, but the way the Ravens were able to control the game when Rice was involved.

Rice wasn’t particularly great against the Miami Dolphins. He managed to find the end zone twice, but he averaged 3.3 yards per carry and lost a fumble. In his best game of the year so far, Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of minus-2.1 (subscription required). Regardless, his 33 touches against Miami opened up the entire offense.

Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta were Joe Flacco’s favorite intermediate targets to move the chains last year. Without them, Rice is the next best option.

Week 5 was the first time he was really involved in the passing game since the season-opener. Baltimore got him involved on swing routes and on screens, and he gained important yards on these plays to keep the offense moving.

This screen play came after an offensive pass interference penalty on Torrey Smith backed the Ravens up to 2nd-and-20.

Ray Rice 8-yard screen pass, courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

Deonte Thompson ran a crossing route (light blue) to create space for Rice. Dallas Clark (black), Gino Gradkowski (green) and Marshal Yanda (pink) all released and blocked as Rice caught the screen pass (yellow) from Flacco.

Ray Rice 8-yard screen pass (reverse angle), courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

As Rice turned upfield, he had the patience to wait for Gradkowski to make his block (green). Rice weaved through the blocks and picked up eight yards on the play to get Baltimore in field-goal range.

He’s so elusive and dangerous in space that sometimes it’s more beneficial if he catches the ball instead of running it. That said, getting enough rushing attempts gives the offense some balance, and it also makes the play action much more effective.

For example, this 12-yard completion to Torrey Smith is only possible because the safety, Reshad Jones, bites on the play-action fake (red arrow).

Torrey Smith 12-yard gain off play action, courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

Smith is able to find room behind him (yellow), and by the time Jones has recovered, the pass is already complete.

According to Pro Football Focus, play-action passes made up 22 percent of Flacco’s attempts last year (subscription required)—the 10-highest percentage in the league. With the speed of Torrey Smith on the outside, the play action resulted in big plays.

Without the threat of a running game in 2013, the percentage of Flacco’s throws that are off of play action is down to 15—the fifth-lowest percentage of any starting quarterback (subscription required).

As the season progresses, the Ravens would like Rice’s rushing numbers to pick up—and they probably will. For that to occur, the offensive line needs to build on its solid Week 5 performance.

Regardless of how he runs the ball, Baltimore needs to keep him involved in the offense. If he can’t gain yards on the ground, Rice needs to be used as a receiver. He is the best offensive player on the roster, and good things happen when he touches the ball.

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