Run game returns with a bang

The Ravens’ coaches might not like this headline.

They’ll insist that the running game never left; that the Ravens had been moving the ball effectively on the ground throughout the course of this season.

But yesterday sure looked like the Ravens of old, as they ran the ball a franchise-record 55 times, picked up 290 rushing yards and wore down a Browns front which was already sucking wind by the time the two teams headed into the half. And as the weather worsens over these next handful of weeks and we get into playoff football, that’s the Ravens that we might need to see more of.

Of course, Baltimore won’t see as many fronts as soft as Cleveland’s (man, that group looked like a high school JV squad at times), but the point remains the same. If the Ravens can continue to pound the rock down the stretch, they have the ability to manhandle their opponents.

“We are going to have to continue to play these hard, physical games and convert on third down,” quarterback Joe Flacco told reporters after the game. “Score some points; continue the way we have been playing.”

A large part of the credit for yesterday’s dominant performance obviously goes to running back Ray Rice, who put up a career-high 204 rushing yards on just 29 carries.

Rice was physical, and on a field which must’ve made it tough to grip and explode out of a cut, he showed the same impressive quickness we’ve grown to expect out of the fourth-year back. But Rice was also patient, setting up his blocks and letting his offensive linemen (who simply overpowered the guys lining up across from them) clear lanes. It was that part of Rice’s performance which might have been what impressed head coach John Harbaugh the most.

“I thought he did a really good job of staying behind his blockers,” Harbaugh said. “Ray is one of these guys, he’s got great vision, he’s got a great knack for making big plays. You saw both of those today. I think he gave our offensive line time to really block the plays out, but then he made a couple of plays on his own, like only he can.”

I pointed out last week that in Harbaugh’s tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens have recorded the league’s third-best total when it comes to rushing yards per game during the months of December and January.

In essence, when the weather gets cold and the games gain extra significance, the running game picks up.

That sure looked to be the case in Cleveland, and if the Ravens can continue to dominate the line of scrimmage and clear a path up front, we might see more of Rice and Ricky Williams down the stretch.

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