In the movie "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray strangely experiences the same day and same sequence of events over and over.
The situation with the Ravens' tepid running game could serve as a sequel.
With only minor variations, the same sequence of events has unfolded every week: a) the running game struggles on Sunday, b) Head Coach John Harbaugh looks at the game film and says things need to improve, c) the players say they're optimistic and are working hard to rectify the problems, d) a new game begins with high hopes, and e) the running game struggles again.
If you've seen "Groundhog Day," you know the cycle eventually breaks and good things happen. The Ravens won't have many better opportunities to break their cycle than in this Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. If they're ever going to change the troubling narrative of their running game in 2013, this is the time to do it.
The Bears' run defense is just about the NFL's worst, ranked 31st out of 32 teams with a per-game yield of 129.4 yards. Only Jacksonville is giving up more, and the lamentable Jaguars are giving up a lot more, so you could say the Bears are ranked last among teams that are actually competitive.
The Bears have fine players up front, including end Julius Peppers, but middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has retired, tackle Henry Melton is out for the year, linebacker Lance Briggs has a shoulder injury and they're having a rough time. A week ago, they gave up 145 yards on the ground to Detroit and lost a home game. The week before that, they gave up 199 yards on the ground to Green Bay.
What do Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, Washington's Alfred Morris, the New York Giants' Brandon Jacobs, Detroit's Reggie Bush and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson have in common? They've all rushed for 100 or more yards in a game against the Bears this season. Bush has done it twice.
In all, the Bears have allowed six hundred-yard outings in 10 games. Only six teams are giving up more yards per carry (4.5).
The sound of those ugly numbers crunching is sweet music to the Ravens' ears. Neither Ray Rice nor Bernard Pierce has come close to a 100-yard rushing game this season. Shoot, the Ravens haven't even surpassed 100 as a team in a game. They're ranked near the bottom of the league in all metrics – yards per rush (2.8), yards per game (73.1) and total yards on the ground (658). Harbaugh said this week that his team's performance in this area is "not even close" to where it needs to be or should be.
If they were to change the narrative, break the cycle of repetition, it would be a huge development, potentially a season-changing event. A solid ground game would impact every other aspect of the team, improving ball control, getting the defense off the field, putting less pressure on the passing attack. A ground game especially helps on the road, where the Ravens have lost four of five games in 2013.
If the Ravens get back to running the ball decently, they become a serious playoff contender. It's that important.
The optimal time to do it is now, in Bill Murray's hometown of Chicago. If the Ravens don't break through Sunday, "Groundhog Day" will play for another week and they'll have to try to get back on track the following Sunday against Rex Ryan's New York Jets, who happen to possess the NFL's top-ranked run defense. That won't be nearly as easy.
Among the big-body receivers making noise in the NFL, Chicago's Brandon Marshall probably has the biggest body. At 6-feet-4 and 230 pounds, he is one powerful dude – so big that the Ravens probably need Jimmy Smith on him rather than any of their other, smaller cornerbacks. Sunday's game is Exhibit A of why the Ravens drafted Smith in the first round in 2011.
It's hard to believe (but true) that the Ravens have lost nine of their last 14 regular-season games. Of course, they're also on a four-game winning streak in the postseason.
When Ed Reed returns to M&T Bank Stadium with the Jets next Sunday, he will not experience the same love-fest he did when he returned with the Texans in September. He is beloved here, but you only get one shining moment.