Ravens hope to get running game in order at Miami

While there are plenty of issues the Ravens are working to address after last week’s loss at Buffalo, the running game should be drawing the most attention.

The offensive line woes and Baltimore’s abandonment of the ground game have been discussed multiple times this week, and the team made an effort to upgrade in that department by acquiring left tackle Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville.

There’s a reason the focus has been directed that way, as the Ravens’ rushing attack has been non-existent, ranking 28th in the NFL with just 64.0 yards per game a quarter of the way through the season.

With the likes of Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, the Ravens have always been able to rely on the run game - with only a handful of exceptions - since coming to Baltimore in 1996. Since drafting Rice in 2008, the team has always owned one of the more respected rushing units in the NFL, finishing as high as fourth and no lower than 14th in the league.

But this year has been a different story. The 64.0 rushing yards per game, in the unlikely scenario that low figure holds over a full season, would be far and away the worst in team history. The Ravens never finished lower than 25th in rushing in their first 17 seasons and only once averaged fewer than 100 yards, which they did in 1997.

Here’s a look at the yearly breakdown:

Year Rushing YPG (League rank)
2012 118.8 (11)
2011 124.8 (10)
2010 114.4 (14)
2009 137.5 (5)
2008 148.5 (4)
2007 112.3 (16)
2006 102.3 (25)
2005 100.3 (21)
2004 128.9 (9)
2003 167.1 (1)
2002 112.0 (16)
2001 113.1 (11)
2000 137.4 (5)
1999 109.6 (16)
1998 101.8 (20)
1997 99.3 (22)
1996 109.1 (14)

The Ravens’ struggles to run have dragged down the offense as a whole. Baltimore was forced to pass 50 times against Buffalo, while running the ball just nine times, a Ravens record-low by three.

It’s pretty hard to establish any form of misdirection or play-action passing if the opponent knows you can’t run the ball. And the either/or of calling that few running plays and gaining just 2.6 yards per carry on the season makes it so opposing defenses don’t have to guess much.

Leading up to Sunday’s game at Miami, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell explained to reporters that the team needs to get its running game in order and perhaps needs to stick with it longer amid the struggles to help straighten things out.

“I do think that sometimes you have to look at it and make a determination of what’s going on. There are a lot of things you have to evaluate. If it’s not going well for you, it’s tough,” Caldwell said. “The fact of the matter is, we even have to be more patient and just keep trying to get done with what we know we can do in that area, because running the ball is the quarterback’s best friend. It makes a tremendous difference. We want to improve that side certainly, but the other side of it as well. We’re also a team that is not one-dimensional, so you have to be able to spread it around a bit.”

In retrospect, Caldwell admitted the team might have been hasty in abandoning the run against Buffalo.

“If you had a chance to do it all over again, perhaps we’d have to consider and look at running that ball a little bit more. I don’t think we ran it quite enough (against Buffalo),” he told reporters. “We chose to throw it, and it didn’t turn out the way wanted to. We learned from it; we’ll tee it up and learn from it again.”

Rice is off to a rough start this season with just 89 yards on 30 rushes and just 11 catches for 44 yards through three games played. He missed the Ravens’ win over the Texans because of a left hip flexor injury.

Rice said health isn’t an issue and expects to help the team more going forward.

“I definitely felt good enough to contribute last week, and I feel better coming into this week knowing I had no setbacks,” Rice said. “I know what the deal is with my leg. Now that I firmly have my confidence - I have a game under me - I feel I can definitely go out there and contribute a little bit more. A lot more.”

Coach John Harbaugh is well aware that the Ravens need to involve Rice more, as he’s one of the team’s premier offensive weapons.

“If we can create plays and stay on the field and get a rhythm and get first downs, then we are going to have an opportunity to spread the ball around and use all of our guys,” Harbaugh said. “But certainly, you’ve got to give him the ball; I understand that. And you’ve got to throw him the ball when the coverage allows you to do it.”

While last week, the Ravens were going up against the Bills and the NFL’s 30th-ranked rushing defense, they face a greater challenge Sunday in a Dolphins team holding opponents to 98.5 rushing yards per game, 10th-best in the league.

Baltimore’s coaching staff has been abundantly clear that the running issues have more to do with what the Ravens aren’t doing than what their foes are doing - an indication that those numbers matter little.

The Ravens are still 2-2 as they head down to Miami, which is off to a 3-1 start. Even with no ground game, Baltimore is still tied for first in the AFC North through four contests.

With that being the case, quarterback Joe Flacco chose to spin some good things out of Rice’s lack of involvement in the offense so far while also admitting that needs to change.

“You want to get him the ball, but at some point, you’ve got to look at some of the positives about it,” he said. “We got a lot of guys work, and we didn’t win a football game. Maybe it works out better. Ray doesn’t get a lot of touches, and he has another week to get more and more healthy. That game is really over. It’s not really that important anymore. You’ve got to kind of move on and find out what we’ve got to do better to win this next one.”