It's Time For Old Plan Of Attack Against Packers

December 04, 2009|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston , mike.preston@baltsun.com

If Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is going to unleash hell in December, then the Ravens should unleash the three-headed monster again at running back.

If Pittsburgh has a secret weapon, so do the Ravens. This is not the time to be holding back. We've talked about this before, but now is the perfect time.

It's December, the time good teams hitch a ride on their running game straight into the postseason. It's going to be a cold, possibly snowy night in Green Bay on Monday, and the best way to keep the Packers and their sensational young quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, off the field is to pound away at the Packers.

It's time for Ravens second-year running back Ray Rice to be joined by his partners in the backfield from a year ago, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain.

We might have gotten a glimpse of it Sunday night in the Ravens' 20-17 win over the Steelers. Rice had 19 carries for 88 yards, and McGahee had five for 18. McClain, the starting fullback, was just starting to pound away at the Pittsburgh defense in the third quarter but had to leave the game late in the period with an abdominal injury.

McClain, who finished with four carries for 28 yards, said he'll be ready Monday night against Green Bay.

"I'm good, getting treatment every day," McClain said. "I'm feeling a lot better than I did Sunday night. I was just starting to get into it, then messed around and got hurt. Some guy caught me in the ribs.

"I'm feeling a lot better than I did Sunday night. I'm ready for everything. I'm sore a little bit, but it's nothing I can't work through. It's December, it's playoffs. Almost anything goes."

It was the first extensive work by all three running backs since early in the season. A year ago, though, the ground game was the major staple of the offense. The Ravens kept grinding at opposing teams with McClain, McGahee and Rice all the way to the AFC championship game.

But that changed at the beginning of this season because the Ravens outsmarted themselves. Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, auditioning for a head coaching job, wanted to show off the arm of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco in 2009.

It worked for a while, but Air Flacco has been grounded the past couple of weeks. Opposing teams are throwing more schemes than ever at Flacco, confusing a young quarterback who is still getting on-the-job training.

Despite denials by the Ravens and Flacco, he is bruised and battered, nursing ankle and shoulder injuries. His mobility has decreased, and he no longer steps up in the pocket. The coaching staff has gone back to telling Flacco which receiver to throw to.

The Ravens also made a mistake by trying to have a dominant passing attack without a quality bunch of receivers.

On Monday night, though, there's a chance for the Ravens to make amends.

Green Bay has the NFL's No. 1 defense, but the Packers are soft up front. If the Ravens can run the ball, they take it out of Flacco's hands as well as those of the elusive Rodgers, who'll throw for more than 400 yards if Green Bay wins time of possession.

In his worst nightmares, Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn't want Green Bay's receivers matched up with his cornerbacks for long, especially Donald Driver against Domonique Foxworth.

Oh, no, no, no ...

The best bet for the Ravens is to unleash the three-headed monster. The Ravens haven't used them much this season, so at least McGahee and McClain are fresh. If the Ravens can get them going and gain some momentum, it could make the last four games interesting.

It also leaves Cameron an out. If the Ravens win out into the postseason, he can say he was trying to keep all three running backs fresh to make a serious playoff run at the end. You can sell anything to fans when you win.

"I knew that Sunday night, if I had continued to do my job, Cam would have said, 'Keep it going, keep taking it to them,' " McClain said. "I'm not beat up like last year. I've been cold-tubbing and hot-tubbing it, and it feels good right now. The big push for me is December. It's all on Cam. If he calls on me, I'm good for it."

Rice said: "It was a great feeling. I took more pride in finishing that game the way we did running the ball play after play after play. It really set a precedent for what is going on in the near future with our offense."

We hope so.

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