Open competition at running back

Photo Courtesy: Baltimore Sun

Sounds like a headline saved for training camp, or OTAs. Not week 11. 

Coach Harbaugh mentioned today that from this point forward, the back who gets the bulk of the carries will have earned it with their play. Sounds like going into Sunday’s game in Chicago, Rice and Pierce are on a level playing field, and competing for the starting job like a couple of rookies in a preseason game. 

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You can’t say that the Ravens coaches aren’t trying to find the formula for getting the offense, the running game in particular going. We’ve discussed zone blocking ad nauseam. They have tried running in the I-formation with Vonta Leach, running plays without Leach, running out of the shotgun, implementing the pistol formation, having the coaches call the plays, having Joe Flacco call the plays, and trading Bryant McKinnie for Eugene Monroe to try to solidify the struggling O-line. This past week, we saw another wrinkle in Jim Caldwell’s offense where Tyrod Taylor got involved running a reverse. Also a flea flicker that might have been Ray Rices best contribution of the game. Not screwing up the pitch back.

The line is bad, and it’s not going to get better. There isn’t a magic potion out there that can make them turn 180 degrees. I’ve been an apologist for Ray Rice this year based on the line play, but I think I’m going to have to eat crow on that subject. I had mentioned before that it would be almost impossible to give a fair assessment of Rice based on how poor the blocking has been for him. But then I noticed more than a few times in the last couple games, out in open space where he has been dangerous in the past, he’s not slipping past anybody.

As Pro Football Focus’, Gordon McGuinness, mentioned on Lance Rinker’s Show, right here at BSL, Ray Rice has forced five missed tackles in the run game all season (three in the passing game). Marshawn Lynch leads the league at 51 forced missed tackles in the run game. Adrian Peterson has 40. Even the majority of the league’s most mediocre backs have a number in the high teens, or twenties when it comes to making people miss. Even Willis McGahee, who was unemployed when the season started, has nine of these. Also, Ray Rice averages 1.38 yards after contact, worst in the league of course. 1.38 yards is about 4’2” or so. Rice isn’t even falling forward good enough. He’s hit, and immediately dropped more often than not.

Bernard Pierce has forced 14 missed tackles in the run game. Nearly three times as many as Rice in 28 less carries.

Rice has yet to break off a run of more than 15 yards. Despite the O-Line woes, Pierce has managed to get two. Yeah, only two, but two is better than zero.

Pierce is even slightly better at blocking for Joe Flacco than Ray Rice has been. Pierce posts a 92.9 pass blocking efficiency, versus Rice 89.6. It should be said though that both guys rank near the bottom here as well. The better blockers post a PBE above 95.0.

Cumulatively, PFF has given Ray Rice a grade of -12.8 up to this point. For Bernard Pierce, -0.1.

In fact, if you want to take the stance that Sunday in Chicago shouldn’t be a dress rehearsal for these two men, and go by what we saw last week, Rice averaged 1.7 YPC on 18 carries. Pierce with 3.9 YPC on eight carries. To give Rice some credit, he did catch six balls, albeit for 4.3 YPR. Pierce caught two at 6.0 YPR. Bernard Pierce was the only player on the Ravens offense that received a good grade (over 1.0) at 1.5 by PFF.  

I think it’s pretty easy who should be getting more touches going forward. Ray Rice just doesn’t have it this year. Maybe taking a back seat for a while will freshen him up; maybe it’ll wake him up. Maybe it’ll make him work harder in the offseason for a bounce back 2014. He isn’t going anywhere considering Rice would cost $14.25M in dead money next year if you trade him or waive him.

Here’s to hoping the tryout is enough to give Rice a kick in tail. This is the first time since he took over as the starting RB in 2009 that his job as the starter and leading rusher is in jeopardy.  But my anticipation is that things will stay the course. If Harbaugh is honest that the better RB will start getting more touches, Bernard Pierce will be the feature back. They have tried a number of different things to try to get this ship sailing. Why not this?

If the Ravens can’t run it this week, they can’t run it any week. The Chicago Bears rank 31st in run defense, allowing 129.4 YPG. PFF grades them as the worst run defense with a grade of -50.2. In perspective, the Ravens run blocking grades out at -60.3. So their run defense is almost as poor as the Ravens run blocking. Not quite, but almost. It’s not exactly the unstoppable force versus the immovable object, is it?

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About the author


Mike Randall   

Ravens Analyst

Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently residing in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Shortly after he started up a Baltimore area sports blog called The BOHpen. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010.


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