Losing Rice would threaten Ravens' passing game

September 27, 2010|By Mike Preston

If Ravens running back Ray Rice can't play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it will do more damage to the passing game than the running game.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Rice suffered a serious bruise to his knee against the Cleveland Browns with 10 minutes left in the game after being tackled on a short pass. Harbaugh said he is unsure whether Rice will be able to play against Pittsburgh.

The Ravens have capable backups in Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, and in a pinch they can go with Jalen Parmele as a third option at running back. The running game doesn't change much with McGahee as the lead back even though Rice has more explosion outside on tosses and sweeps.

The big drop-off will come in the passing game. Rice has been a security blanket to third-year quarterback Joe Flacco as a main check-off option when his receivers are covered downfield. Rice is dangerous in open space on screens and short passes in the flats.

McGahee has decent hands, but neither he nor McClain poses the same threat out of the backfield as Rice. When Rice is on the field, opposing teams have to account for him at all times.

"It's a serious contusion, and we'll have to see how he heals throughout the course of the week," Harbaugh said.

Stover marches on

The New Orleans Saints are looking for a kicker, but it won't be former Raven Matt Stover.

Stover said he expected the Saints to sign former kicker John Carney, at least for the time being, either as some type of consultant or to be put him on the roster to work with current kicker Garrett Hartley. Hartley missed a 29-yard try in overtime Sunday as the Saints lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-24.

Carney was with the Saints last season before turning the job over to Hartley. Before Sunday's game, the Saints had contacted Stover's agent about Stover's possibly working out for the team.

New Orleans would have been a great fit for Stover. He was born in Dallas and played at Louisiana Tech. Because of the Saints' high-octane offense, Stover would have been given a lot of chances, and he would have succeeded kicking at the Superdome.

Stover, 42, a Raven from 1996 to 2008, is the team's all-time leading scorer. He played for the Indianapolis Colts last season and earned a trip to the Super Bowl, where the Colts lost to the Saints.

"I'm in great shape, and if some team ready to go to the Super Bowl needs my help, then I'm ready," Stover said. "It has to be the right opportunity, just like it was in Indianapolis last season.

"I still have a lot of friends down there, and a little fan club all over Louisiana," Stover said. "If I get a chance to kick down there, it would really be a hoot."

Steelers' game plan

Unlike Sunday when the Ravens faced the blitz-happy Browns, the Steelers will present a new, yet old challenge to Flacco. I suspect Pittsburgh will stay in cover-2 and drop seven players into coverage.

The Steelers will try to get pressure on Flacco with a four-man rush and force him to read the entire field and go through all his progressions, an area in which Flacco has struggled.

It will be interesting to see what Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron come up with.

Ngata at fullback?

If McGahee starts and gets hurt, then the Ravens are really in trouble. McClain, the team's starting fullback, is listed as McGahee's backup, but the Ravens don't have another fullback on the roster.

If that scenario plays out, does defensive tackle Haloti Ngata become the next man up at fullback? That would really be interesting.

Firing up front seven

Sometimes in the past, the Ravens were in denial when an opposing player rushed for 100 yards against them. They blamed it on themselves and didn't credit the other team.

But after the mauling the Ravens took from the Browns up front Sunday, every player in their front seven acknowledged that it was a thorough butt-kicking.

"When you go two weeks in a row without letting two pretty good offenses score -- not saying that Cleveland isn't a good offense -- but we just kind of felt like when they scored those two touchdowns, it just [stank]," Ngata said. "Our feeling as a defense. … We just feel like we're better than that."

The positive that came out of the game was that the Ravens won. They allowed Peyton Hillis to rush for 144 yards, but that's an aberration. There are a lot of prideful players on that defense, and they'll go to Pittsburgh with the usual nasty attitude, but an edge as well.

We'll see a rejuvenated front seven Sunday.

New offensive identity

The Ravens really do have an offensive identity, and they are a passing team.

The Ravens usually only run the ball inside or near their own 20-yard line. They used to run a lot more inside the red zone last year, but they feel more comfortable now throwing the ball with new receivers and Flacco having another year of experience.

The Ravens seldom run the ball twice in a row in the middle of the field, and seem to run it only when it appears they have thrown the ball too many consecutive times.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Fridays on 105.7 FM.

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