The Ravens came into Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins with a clear game plan on offense: run the football.
After struggling to run the ball* *in each of their first four games this season, the Ravens made it a priority to establish the ground attack against Miami. The strategy paid off, as the Ravens ran the ball 40 times for a season-high 133 yards and two touchdowns in the 26-23 victory over Miami.
"No matter how it looked, we were going to run the ball," running back Ray Rice said. "And that's a good feeling."
In last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens had a franchise-low nine rushing attempts and Rice had just five carries. The Ravens had averaged just 64 yards per game coming into Sunday, and a big part of the problem was that the offensive line could not open holes for the backs.
That changed against the Dolphins, as the Ravens stuck with the run and grinded down the Miami defense over the course of the game.
"I thought we did a good job staying with the run game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our backs were solid, running the ball north and south against a very good defense. Finally our offensive line kind of wore them down toward the end."
Harbaugh, Rice and Bernard Pierce all pointed to an improved showing by the offensive line as the difference.
"I truly give the offensive line all the credit," Rice said.
"Our guys were definitely getting after their guys," Pierce added. "They seemed a little worn down, and at the end of the day we took advantage of that."
Sticking with the running game allowed the Ravens to control the clock and limit the opportunities for the Dolphins offense in the second half. The Ravens held the football for 36 minutes and 16 seconds, compared to 23:44 for the Dolphins.
That gave the Ravens defense the chance to rest on a 90-degree afternoon.
"I love it when 27 and 30 are toting that thing," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "When you have a two-headed monster like that, [the] defense loves it when we're using them."
The Ravens stayed with the run even though it was not leading to big gains early in the game. They finished with an average of just 3.3 yards per carry, but they were able to pick up big chunks of yardage late in the game.
Pierce carried for 28 yards late in the third quarter – the longest run by a Ravens' running back this season – and that started off an 11-play, 94-yard touchdown drive. Rice ended up punching in the touchdown with a 3-yard carry. He also picked up the Ravens' only other touchdown on a 2-yard run in the third quarter.
"We definitely wore them down a little bit and Bernard had that one -yard run and that helped us out a lot," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "And we had some room in there. The big thing is that we wore them down a little bit and we converted third downs."
Rice finished the day with 74 yards on 27 carries, and two touchdowns. Pierce added 11 carries for 46 yards.
Rice's 27 carries were the most he's had in a regular season game since Dec. 4, 2011, when he carried 29 times against the Browns. Rice also had 30 carries in last year's divisional-round victory against the Denver Broncos.
"Me and Bernard were able to push through some things and we just keep getting better each week," Rice said. "[Offensive Coordinator] Jim [Caldwell] didn't let off. One thing that he said he was going to do was that we were going to run the ball. We established it, and sometimes it was a 2-yard run, sometimes it was a 3-yard run, sometimes it was six. We just grinded."