Ravens' Rice proving that he's one of the NFL's best

October 16, 2011|Mike Preston

Ravens running back Ray Rice just might be the most complete offensive weapon in the NFL. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having an excellent season, but what Rice is doing is on a different level.

There are others who are running just as well as Rice, like Buffalo's Fred Jackson, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, San Francisco's Frank Gore, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Oakland's Darren McFadden.

There are others who were better than Rice last year, like Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Houston's Arian Foster. But there is no running back in the league that can change the game like Rice. He is versatile as a runner, with the ability to run outside or inside and finish off runs with power.

Few linebackers or safeties can cover him out of the backfield as a receiver, and he can change the entire scheme of a defense when he lines up outside or in the slot as a receiver.

With the game on the line Sunday, the Ravens finished off the Houston Texans with a strong running game in the fourth quarter. Rice led the way with nine carries for 62 yards. He finished with 101 yards rushing, and had five catches for 60 yards.

"Ray Rice ended up running for 100 yards, but a lot of damage was done late when they were putting us away there," said Houston coach Gary Kubiak.

At this point of the season, there is talk of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs as the Ravens' most valuable players, but that honor goes to Rice.

The Ravens have decent backups for Suggs and Ngata, but no one who can replace Rice. With an offense that has been inconsistent, no player has carried this team more than Rice. He is averaging 140 yards from scrimmage and has at least 100 total yards in four of five games this season.

He has posted 25 100-yard games from scimmage since 2009. Johnson has 22 and Peterson 21.

Killer instinct

Despite struggling offensively for most of the game, the Ravens at least have shown they can finish off opponents.

They mashed the New York Jets with a strong running game in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, and did the same thing to the Texans on Sunday.

Red-zone blues

The Ravens have to get better in the red zone. They scored two touchdowns on four opportunities against the Texans, but the final one didn't come until the fourth quarter.

The Ravens failed to score touchdowns after two long passes, and that's how teams lose games in the postseason. The Ravens have had 19 possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line, and have scored only seven touchdowns with 10 field goals.

On the series where quarterback Joe Flacco scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the Ravens failed to score on the three previous plays from the 1 because Rice failed to run behind right guard Marshal Yanda on one play, and center Matt Birk, right tackle Michael Oher and tight end Ed Dickson got caved in on the other plays.

Center of attention

There were several times the Texans triple-teamed Ngata, and that's the ultimate tribute.

Ngata still finished with eight tackles and played his usual great game. The Ravens are simply overpowering inside with Ngata and fellow tackles Terrence Cody and Brandon McKinney.

When they get in short-yardage situations, that's a lot of beef up front, and the big guys are doing a great job of staying on their feet, something Cody struggled with earlier in the season.

Poor pass protection

The Ravens are the best team in the AFC, but they have to do a better job of protecting Flacco. He took a beating, and was sacked twice and hit five other times with 4 minutes and 38 seconds left in the first half.

Flacco had a quarterback rating of only 78.5, but he played a lot bigger and better than that number.

Flacco, though, has to do a better job of protecting the ball. Whenever he scrambles, you often fear the worst — that a turnover is coming.

Staying power

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis finished with 12 tackles, including one sack. He became the first player in NFL history to have more than 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.

The man is like the Energizer Bunny.

Nasty boys

Those Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John, are good head coaches, but they aren't making many friends among their fraternity in the NFL.

First there is John, irking coaches by running up the score, and then Jim, getting into an exchange with Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Sunday.

The Harbaugh boys could be forming a new tag team in pro wrestling soon.

One more shot

Texas wide receiver Derrick Mason took the high road — sort of — when asked about his recent trade from the Jets to the Texans.

"I was very happy because one, this is an offense that throws the ball a lot, and two, this team has a very good quarterback and a very good quarterback is a wide receiver's best friend," Mason said. "This is the best situation. This is a team that wanted me."

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