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Different Running Back, Same Troubles

Posted Sep 23, 2013

With Ray Rice out, not much changed as the Ravens averaged 2.4 yards per carry Sunday.

The Ravens had a different running back, but the same troubles in the running game Sunday afternoon.

Pro Bowler Ray Rice (hip) sat out against the Texans, leaving backup Bernard Pierce to carry the load.

Pierce battled throughout the game, but didn’t see much in the way of results. He gained just 65 yards on 24 carries. As a team, Baltimore had 75 total rushing yards for an average of 2.4 per carry.

The Ravens weren’t sounding the alarm.

They credited the Houston Texans’ offensive line, and pointed to the fact that Baltimore’s running game still contributed to a victory by grinding out tough yards in the second half.

“It was tough,” guard Marshal Yanda said. “They’re tough. They’ve got a tough run defense, and we did what we had to do to get the win.”

The Texans have one of the best front sevens in the NFL with reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, defensive end Antonio Smith and linebackers Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed.

“That front seven was definitely a monster,” Pierce said of the Texans. “They played great, there were a lot of motions and shifts that confused us a little bit.”

But it’s not a problem limited to just Sunday afternoon.

The Ravens averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the season opener in Denver and the same last week against Cleveland, despite the Browns being without starting defensive ends Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin.

Through three games this season, the Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Baltimore averaged 4.3 yards per rush last year, and has four returning starters (some in different positions). The only new face is center Gino Gradkowski instead of Matt Birk.

Yanda said he couldn’t diagnose any offensive line issues without looking at the tape.

The problem isn’t a lack of confidence in the run game. Despite Rice being sidelined Sunday, the Ravens felt good about Pierce heading into the game.

“We thought we could run the ball well today, so we came out trying to establish that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Credit [the Texans], they did a good job stopping that.”

Pierce found next to no running room inside. He didn’t bounce many runs outside, which is where he generally picks up big gains. The Ravens may have purposefully tried to stay up the gut instead of opening themselves up to penetration by the Texans’ front seven.

“For Bernard to take the ball North-South against that defense and hold on to that football was a key part of the game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Bernard battled the whole game.”

The Ravens eventually started to find some running room in the second half, as Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell stayed patient with it, and used it to run time off the clock with the lead.

Pierce scored Baltimore’s only offensive touchdown with a 1-yard run while barely being touched. He ended the third quarter with a 25-yard jaunt with the Ravens backed up on their own 4-yard line. On the Ravens’ final drive, Pierce had tough 11-, 4-, 3- and 2-yard carries to essentially close out the game.

Backup Shaun Draughn, who was signed two weeks ago, picked up a key first down with a 3-yard run also in the fourth quarter.

“It was the one that I broke for a little bit of yardage after they weren’t giving up an inch,” Pierce said of his 25-yard scamper. “At the end of the day we started pounding, pounding, pounding, and eventually a little bit gave way."

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