It’s been the biggest elephant in the room all season while watching the Ravens, but it’s time to start asking some serious questions about Ray Rice.
Number 27 has provided Baltimore football fans with highlight reel plays and more than solid production over the past five seasons, but the 2013 campaign has been a nightmare. Rice is averaging nearly a full two yards per carry less than his career average and simply put, he’s hurting the offense at this point more than he’s helping.
Could it be that Rice is injured?
He did miss the team’s third game of the year against the Texans with a hip injury. There’s no reason to believe that Rice’s hip injury has lingered. No one has brought anything of that nature up in press conferences nor has he been a factor on the team’s injury report. But watching Rice play this season, I’m almost rooting for an injury to be his excuse. I don’t want to believe that this is the same Ray Rice that has carried the Ravens offense over the past few seasons.
Some will point out that the offensive line has been awful this season. Bernard Pierce hasn’t been able to find much daylight behind the five behemoths in front either. But going specifically on the eye test, you can tell something is up with Rice. Has he lost his step? It happens this quickly to running backs in the NFL. One year they are brilliant, and the next they are looking for a new job. That time could quickly be approaching for Rice.
I’m not saying Ray Rice will never contribute in the NFL again. We’ve seen players have outstanding stretches of seasons and then go downhill quickly, but still be able to hold a starting job in the league. Look at Tennessee’s Chris Johnson as an example. CJ2K was one of, if not the, premier back in the league just a few years ago, but fell off quickly. But he’s still a threat in the Titans offense.
Another name that comes to mind is Frank Gore in San Francisco or Steven Jackson, who spent many productive years with the Rams and has taken his talents to Atlanta. None of these players compare perfectly with Rice’s situation, but they are examples of running backs who were once thought of as superstars and are now just solid contributors.
Last season, or any of the past few years, when Ray Rice got the ball in the open field it was almost impossible to see the first man bring him down. Now it’s shocking when the first tackler whiffs. Does anyone even remember the days of 4th & 29 last year in San Diego? Could Rice ever make such a play full of shifty moves and jukes today?
I don’t see the same burst towards the line, the same cuts or even the same ability to block. Rice has never been the most stellar pass blocker for his size, but this year he has been a major liability there as well.
I entertained the idea even before the season that the Ravens may want to explore a trade for Ray Rice after this season. I’ve seen what Bernard Pierce can do in the backfield, and while he’s not as polished as Rice is quite yet, he’s shown flashes of ability to be a starting running back. I had figured that Rice’s value might never be higher after this season. That idea has gone squarely out the window. As hard as Rice’s contract would be to move, he has little to no value to NFL teams at this point.
I love Ray Rice to pieces for all of his contributions to the Ravens and to Baltimore as a whole. It’s rare to see a player embrace a team and a community like Rice has done. His outreach to the community and to children in the area is outstanding and he couldn’t be a better role model. But when it comes to his on the field action this season, we very well could be seeing the beginning of the end.
No one in Baltimore dares to cross or criticize Ozzie Newsome for some of the brilliant decisions he’s made with the Ravens franchise over the years. Could it be though, that giving Rice a five-year deal worth roughly $40 million was a huge mistake?
Running backs are becoming less and less valuable in this league. Everyone knows that passing is the focus of most offenses. The Ravens have shown that this season with their complete inability to run the football.
Should an NFL GM ever pay that much money to keep a running back around going into the future?
Time will tell.