The Ravens went old school on Sunday, as running back Ray Rice breathed new life into this team.
On a cold, sometimes blustery December day, Rice and the Ravens' offensive line may have provided the missing ingredient for the Ravens in 2010.
The Ravens finally played smash-mouth football. Led by offensive tackles Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, guards Ben Grubbs, Chris Chester and center Matt Birk, the Ravens pounded the New Orleans Saints for 208 yards rushing on the way to a 30-24 victory.
It was impressive, and hopefully the start of something big. Rice rushed 31 times for 153 yards, and backup Willis McGahee had 53 yards on seven carries. The Saints had no answers, and got outmuscled by a physically superior Ravens team.
"It's December, and you're on the East Coast, so we know we needed to get this running game going," Birk said. "To a man, we knew we had to get Ray going, had to get Willis going. They open up things for the other guys. It was the type of game where Cam [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] could keep calling runs. If you convert on third downs, stay on the field, then you keep calling more runs."
Maybe Cameron will go through a conversion. The NFL has gone pass happy, and there is a belief that you have to throw to win a Super Bowl. That might be in vogue, but old school still works. If you can run the ball and play good defense, then you always have a good shot a winning.
There is nothing more demoralizing in football, maybe all of sports, than a 12-play, 80-yard run-oriented drive where an opposing team can do nothing to stop you. It allows your offense to control the pace of the game, and your defense to rest.
Just ask the Saints.
"The bottom line is that we didn't stop the run," said Saints safety Darren Sharper. "We know we can play with this team. It seemed like penalties at bad times of the game hurt us, but we just didn't stop the run."
Now, ask Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
"They [Saints] try to establish themselves by bullying people," said Harbaugh. "They want to push people around, intimidate you, and they are pretty darn good at it. But our guys weren't going to let that happen, not here. We won't be bullied."
The Saints like to control the pace of the game. They want to get into passing battles and turn their blitzing defense loose. If that was the case Sunday, the Ravens probably would have lost because they were a tired and old-looking team Monday night against Houston.
Instead, the Ravens had a three-minute advantage in time of possession, which is huge against an explosive offensive team like the Saints. And when the Saints blitzed, Rice burned them for several long runs.
"When a team blitzes like that, sometimes it is either hit or miss," said Birk. "Sometimes, you can get into the second level quickly, and that happened quite a few times. We had some nice cutback runs, and those things you can't teach. Your running back has to develop a feel for it."
Rice was sensational with his cutbacks, and McGahee was a good change-of-pace back. Rice had runs of 50 and 20 yards, and the 50-yarder set up the game-winning field goal by Billy Cundiff with 10:08 left.
Rice also had five catches for 80 yards, but it's the Ravens new found running game that grabbed all the attention.
"I think our guys blocked. We probably had more broken tackles than we've ever had," Harbaugh said. "I thought that they ran really hard, and I thought that our offensive line finished blocks. We moved people and finished blocks. That's a credit to our offensive line."
Now, the question is can the Ravens continue to run the ball? Every offense needs balance, but the Ravens don't have to become a passing team because of Flacco and a stable of Pro Bowl receivers.
When the postseason arrives, there might very well be a couple of inches of snow on the ground and strong winds in New England or Pittsburgh. The running game took the ball out of Drew Brees' hands Sunday and Flacco's as well, which isn't a bad thing.
At the end of the first half, Ravens wide receivers had only two catches. At one point in the first half, the Ravens ran the ball four straight times. Maybe the Ravens are on to something.
Maybe they will stay old school throughout the postseason.
"Sooner or later, you've got to be able to put a hat on somebody, and just knock them off the ball," said Harbaugh. "We haven't been able to do that, and today we did."
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.
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