Despite Struggles Rice Still Leads

Lombardi's Way Despite Struggles Rice Still Leads

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Ray Rice has been heavily criticized this season. His production is off and clearly he’s not performing to the level of his contract. The three-time Pro Bowler is being paid to be an elite running back yet he averages just 3.1 yards per carry and is ranked as the 54th most productive back in the league out of a total of 54 backs ranked by Pro Football Focus.

The burst isn’t there.

The elusiveness is missing.

Of Rice’s 197 carries he’s broken tackles or made defenders miss just 9 times (4.6%). Comparatively speaking other backs in the league, some of which are not paid at the level of Ray Rice, are crushing those stats.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus

In the passing game Rice’s numbers are also off. In 2011 he averaged 9.3 yards per catch; 2012 this slipped to 7.8 yards per catch; and this season he’s averaging just 5.4 yards per catch, down 30.8% from last season.

Clearly the run blocking hasn’t been good, but just as clearly Rice has to accept some of the blame. Perhaps born out of frustration, Rice has lacked patience, often running into the backs of offensive linemen and showing little willingness to allow plays to develop.

His peripheral vision – how he sees the field, seems to have taken a step or two back as evidence by the yards he left on the field during this play in Detroit. He fails to see the opening (white arrow) and instead runs into the back of Marshal Yanda. The result left him pounding the turf in frustration, perhaps realizing too late the lost opportunity.

Better play calling could boost Rice’s productivity. Since the Ravens have adopted the read/option style of running the football, three things weigh heavily against the success of this approach as it relates to the Ravens.

First there’s Joe Flacco who has yet to pull down and run the ball following a fake to the back. Defenders don’t need to worry about Flacco (particularly now with a sprained MCL) which mitigates some of the potential threat of this running philosophy.

Secondly, it seems that nearly every time the Ravens line up in the read/option formation with the back directly behind Flacco, the Ravens run the ball and that invites run blitzes from the edge – it’s why we see the Ravens leading the league in rushes that gain zero yards or less (27%).

And lastly, Rice leads the league in percentage of carries run between the tackles with a staggering 70.1%. Even the player who breaks more tackles than any other back in the league (Marshawn Lynch) tries the middle of the defensive line just 61.9% of the time according to Pro Football Focus.

Oh and tell me again why the Ravens re-signed Vonta Leach?

But back to Rice, is it possible that he’s hit the proverbial wall that seems to sneak up on the careers of NFL running backs at the age of 26? Could those 910 carries in three seasons at Rutgers have accelerated Rice’s decline? Might this be influencing his seemingly premature thoughts of retirement?

The Ravens brain trust has to be concerned but maybe it’s as simple as Rice just not being healthy.

Just the other day during a Toys for Tots benefit at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood hosted by Rice, a friend of mine thanked him for going down to kill the clock at the end of Monday night’s game in Detroit. Most observers believed that Rice went down to kill the clock instead of going into the end zone in order to put to rest any remote hopes of a Lions’ comeback. My friend was going up against Rice in fantasy football.

But according to Rice, that’s not what really happened. Ray said he went down because he felt his quad grab and didn’t want to risk another injury.

“I’ve been dealing with a few things this season”, he said with hints of humility.

Yesterday Rice did not participate in practice. He’s listed with a thigh injury.

So if Rice’s season has been plagued by nagging injuries, why haven’t they leaned on Bernard Pierce more? Are there pass protection concerns? It’s not as though Rice has been very effective while attempting to pick up blitzers.

Are there durability concerns with Pierce?

Whatever the reasoning is, Rice should be acknowledged for his team-first approach. Despite the struggles, the aches and pains, the frustrations and his embarrassingly low numbers, Rice hasn’t wavered in his resolve to put the team first.

He hasn’t complained about the blocking, the play calling or the way he’s been handled. He just goes out there on game day and gives it all that he can despite being less than 100%.

If nothing else THAT is a character trait of a leader and it has to on at least some level inspire his teammates.

If not, then maybe they are un-inspirable.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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