If there's one thing that Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh looks back on with the most regret in 2013, it's not being able to run the ball.
"That's probably our biggest disappointment, because really, we're built – and we philosophically believe – in being a rough, tough, physical offense that can run the football," Harbaugh said Tuesday in his season-ending press conference.
"That's the way we started, and that hasn't changed. No matter where you go with the passing game, that has got to be a staple of what we're going to do. And, it wasn't this year."
The Ravens averaged a league-low 3.1 yards per carry in 2013. That's the worst mark in franchise history. The next closest was 3.4 yards per carry in 2006, which ranked 31st. The Ravens averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season.
Baltimore put up just 83 rushing yards per game, ranked 30th in the NFL. That, too, is the worst mark in franchise history. The Ravens had never been below 100 yards per game (100.3 in 2005). Baltimore averaged 118.8 last season.
It was Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice's worst year of his career (660 rushing yards), and second-year backup Bernard Pierce saw his average yards per carry drop by a whopping two yards (4.9 to 2.9).
So why was it so bad?
"It's a lot of things," Harbaugh said.
"You've got to be able to throw the ball well enough to protect your running game and back people off. OK, that's one thing. We didn't always do that. You've got to be able to block people, move people and knock people around well enough to run the ball. You've got to be able to create some angles and some situations where there are mismatches. And, you've got to be able to make some plays out there when plays aren't there to create some yards.
"Across the board, coaches and players, those are all things we just weren't able to put together. We tried like crazy, but we didn't put it together this year."
Baltimore had some scheme changes with the addition of Run Game Coordinator Juan Castillo. That took some time to develop.
There were also changes along the offensive line, including new starting center Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley replacing Kelechi Osemele (back surgery) at left guard, and a rotating left tackle with Bryant McKinnie being traded and Eugene Monroe stepping in. A hip, then thigh injury to Rice, and hamstring injury for Pierce, also contributed.
The Ravens were forced to move away from their running attack early in the season when it was clear it wasn't working. They became a pass-first team with the run game as a complement* *that hopefully put them in better passing situations and tried to keep defenses honest.
That also meant less snaps for Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach. The big bruiser played just 12 offensive snaps in the Ravens' final three games, and saw a drop-off after Week 5.
"We started off with a two-back foundation, and we couldn't run the ball well enough to base the offense on the run game," Harbaugh said. "And I think we came to that realization, and we had to move away from it, which took Vonta off the field more."
The Ravens had problems scoring touchdowns in the red zone in 2013, and part of the reason was an in ability to run the ball in. They scored just seven rushing touchdowns, tied for 28th in the NFL.
Harbaugh was asked whether he would like Baltimore to add a big-bodied runner in the 240-pound range to try to force the ball in the end zone. He said he's had conversations with General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta, scouts and coaches about that. "Yes, I think we need to diversify as much as we can what guys can do," Harbaugh said. "We want to have as many weapons as we can at our disposal. Big backs, fast backs, quick backs, route-running backs that you see around the league – we want to chase all those guys. You can't always get everything you want, but those are things that we could use."