Harbaugh on Rice: “His health has been a factor, no doubt about it”

Ray Rice’s continued struggles seem to be deepening as the weeks pass.

The Ravens tailback came out of the bye saying his hip injury was behind him, that he felt as healthy as he has since the beginning of the season and that he felt like his burst was back.

But the numbers tell another story. Over the last two games, Rice has run for just 47 yards on 29 carries, averaging 1.6 yards each time he’s handed the ball.

Against the Browns on Nov. 3, he had just 17 yards on 11 carries. In this week’s win over Cincinnati, he had 30 yards on 18 carries. That’s an average of 1.5 and 1.7 yards per carry, respectively, for the two lowest totals of his season and two of the lowest of his career.

Rice and coach John Harbaugh have resisted making health an excuse. But on Monday, Harbaugh admitted that it’s likely a main reason for Rice’s inability to produce at his previous level. The 26-year-old has run for just 289 yards in eight games.

“You’ve got to look at the numbers, and definitely, it’s not the same. There’s no doubt about that,” Harbaugh told reporters. “So what is it? It’s injury or it’s not as much room to run, or it’s both. His health has been a factor, no doubt about it. He’s working hard to become healthier. That’s important. That’s a hip flexor. That’s a muscle injury, and it’s hard to predict exactly what impact that has, but you’ve got to assume it’s had an impact.”

As for how the Ravens might address the running game and give Rice more of a break, would they be willing to shake things up and make Bernard Pierce the featured back one game?

“Both of those guys are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “I think that would be ... What would that mean, you know? One guy is a featured back by definition? Both of those guys are going to get a large number of carries, and I think whichever guy is playing better should get more carries as we go forward. But Bernard has had his hamstring issues the last five weeks, which he seems to be coming out of. Ray has had his hip issue since the second game, and he seems to be coming out of that. Both of those guys seem to be getting healthier. That’s a plus for us. Both those guys have got to play for us and play well. You can’t have one back carrying the ball 35 times nowadays. And we don’t need to do that. We think we have two very good backs. So I don’t think that would be the solution.”

Also Monday, Harbaugh was presented with the United States Sports Academy’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award for the “individual, group or institution whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football.”

“This is something that means a lot personally and for our family. My dad and I were just talking about it,” Harbaugh said. “I think my dad had some clinics with Coach Stagg here back in his younger days. No, he’s not quite that old. It’s been said - Knute Rockne said - ‘All football runs through Coach Amos Alonso Stagg,’ and he innovated so many things, including the jersey number, reverses, which we ran one yesterday. Maybe we did it in his honor. And there were all kinds of other plays. The huddle - there are just a number of things that Coach Stagg changed in football. I believe the forward pass as well.

“It’s a great honor, but more for what the award is for and the foundation. Thank you very much. It means so much for a coach and the son of a coach and for our family, too, to be involved with such an award. So thank you very much; it will be treasured.”

On a less positive note, Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict accused a member of the Ravens’ coaching staff of pushing him on the sidelines during Sunday’s game. Harbaugh responded to the allegation Monday.

“Yes, I heard him allege it. That’s all I heard,” Harbaugh told reporters. “I don’t take too much stock in that stuff. I thought our guys did a great job conducting themselves in that game with great poise and great class in spite of some of the stuff that went on.”