Immediately following the season, the Ravens rolled up their sleeves and went to work on improving their run game.
Head Coach John Harbaugh met with running back
“Everybody understands that in 2014, we will do everything we can to be a better run team, because it will make us a better football team,” Newsome said.
The stats will be recited time and time again this offseason. The Ravens finished with the worst average in yards per carry (3.1) in the NFL this season. It was the franchise’s worst mark, and the lowest average of any team in the league since 2007, when the Chicago Bears were also at 3.1.
“To say we’re disappointed in the run game, no doubt,” Newsome said.
“The history of this franchise has been our ability to run the football. Especially in the AFC North with the type of defenses that you face, you have to have the ability to run the football. We think that’s a friend to the quarterback when you have that ability, and that’s one of the things that we’ve already started to work on.”
Much like Harbaugh, who said he expects Rice to return to being one of the league’s best running backs, Newsome came out of his meeting with Rice encouraged.
“I think Ray is committed to being as good a football player as he has been,” Newsome said.
“We had great dialogue yesterday on what we think we can do to help Ray to get there. That combination of us having an understanding and a willingness to provide some help to him, and him having a willingness to work his butt off, we will again have a Pro Bowl running back in Ray Rice next year.”
Rice was a Pro Bowler in 2009, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he had over 2,000 total yards and scored 15 touchdowns. In 2012, his numbers dipped a bit, but were still very strong with 1,143 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and 478 receiving yards.
Rice’s 2013 season veered off track before it even got started. He suffered a hip flexor injury in Week 2, but sat out only one game. Rice fought through that ailment, then a thigh injury, for the rest of the season.
He finished with just 660 rushing yards (career low 3.1 yards per carry average), four touchdowns and 58 catches for 321 yards. Rice didn’t have his usual burst, had trouble making defenders miss, and didn’t gain much yardage after contact.
An offseason of rest should help Rice regain his legs. He’ll turn just 27 years old on Jan. 22.
Better offensive line play would also be a huge help. The Ravens will look to get bigger at center and guard, according to Newsome, and could go back to more of a physical running style next season. Rice was often dealing with defensive linemen or linebackers in the backfield.