Ravens exploring options to improve running game

Patrick Smith

After fielding one of the worst running games in the league this year, the Ravens are thinking about adding more diversity and competition to the backfield in the offseason.

The Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs this season and will not get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. A big reason why is their running game -- or lack thereof. The Ravens managed just 1,328 rushing yards on the season, 30th in the league. Their 3.1 yards per carry was dead last. Ray Rice had his worst season as a pro, as a hip flexor injury sapped his burst and agility. He finished with 660 yards and 3.1 yards per carry. Backup Bernard Pierce wasn't much better, plodding to 436 yards on 152 carries.

Head coach John Harbaugh recognizes the problem and is hinting at adding more variety to the backfield. From the Baltimore Sun:

"Yes, I think we need to diversify as much as we can what guys can do...Big backs, fast backs, quick backs, route-running backs that you see around the league, we want to chase all those guys. You can't always get everything you want, but those are things that we could use."

The Ravens attempted to use a "thunder and lightning" approach with Rice (5'9, 195) and Pierce (6'0, 218). That committee served them well in last year's Super Bowl run, when Rice recorded 1,143 yards and Pierce averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but it completely fell apart in 2013. They were not helped out by a weak offensive line and a passing game lacking in weapons.

Rice has been the team's primary ball carrier for most of his career. From 2009-12, he averaged 277 carries for 1,267 yards and eight touchdowns. A versatile pass catcher as well, Rice led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage in 2011. The Ravens drafted Pierce in the third round in 2012 looking to ease the workload on Rice, but that has yet to pan out and they might be looking for more help.

Harbaugh cited the New England Patriots in his desire for a more diverse backfield. He saw up close how lethal such an attack can be this year when the Patriots demolished the Ravens in Week 16. With LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley splitting carries, the Patriots piled up 142 rushing yards in a 41-7 rout. Blount in particular pounded the Ravens for two touchdowns. Behind Blount, Ridley and Shane Vereen, the Patriots ranked ninth in the league with 2,065 yards, more than enough to keep Tom Brady's passing offense functional despite multiple injuries. As a result, the Patriots cruised to another divisional title and first-round bye.

The Ravens' problems in 2013 can't all be blamed on the running game, but they do need to think long and hard about the position. Rice turns 27 later in January and has a lot of tread on his tires going back to his Rutgers days. He has a chance to bounce back next year, but there's an equally good chance 2013 wasn't an aberration. Pierce had a shot to seize the starting job with Rice hobbled and struggling, but he showed next to nothing in his second season. Adding some more diversity to the backfield could help Baltimore's ailing running game, but improving the offensive line should be the first priority if the Ravens want to get back in the postseason in 2014.

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