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Which Runner Will It Be?


Going into any game against the Ravens and their fourth-ranked rushing attack, and it is a safe bet that the ground game will be featured.

But just who provides the driving force is a question every week.

Whether it is Willis McGahee, Ray Rice or Le'Ron McClain getting the bulk of the carries, the Ravens have been able to move the chains each Sunday.

All three backs have had their opportunities early in games, and then as play unfolds, the Ravens have simply stuck with the hot hand.

Heading into last weekend's matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, head coach John Harbaugh said the team was looking to get each back around 10 carries.

"We were going into that game with the idea that we were going to get each back a significant amount of carries," Harbaugh explained Monday. "[We wanted to] change up the pace a little bit on their defense. All three guys bring a different style to the table, and we wanted to use all three backs in this game.

"It pretty much turned out that way for the most part."

In that 36-7 Ravens rout, McClain who got off to the best start.  The 260-pound fullback wore down Philadelphia's defenses, totaling 88 yards and a touchdown on 18 runs.

It hasn't always been that way.

McGahee and the rookie Rice have both led Baltimore in rushing three times this season. McClain has done it on four occasions.

Even their teammates don't know which of the trio will break out.

"All the guys are capable of doing a great job, and they've all done a great job in different situations all season," said quarterback Joe Flacco. "We have confidence in all of them, and we're going to give the ball to all of them."

The three-man balance is fairly unique in the league. Most teams operate with just one feature back or a two-headed grouping. The top-ranked New York Giants mainly hand off to Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, which Atlanta Falcons (second) lean on Michael Turner.

But McGahee paces the Ravens with 141 attempts for 489 yards. McClain is a beast in the red zone, with a team-best six touchdowns. Rice's 4.1-yard per carry average is the highest in Baltimore.

After going for 102 yards Nov. 9 in Houston, McGahee, who rushed for 1,207 yards in 2007, hasn't had more than nine attempts in the past two weeks.

McGahee, though, has battled knee, eye, rib and ankle injuries all year.

"Willis wants to contribute and wants to play as much as possible, wants to carry the football," Harbaugh said. "He's a competitive guy, works hard. He's working to help our team be as good as it can be, and he's trying to do everything he can at this stage to be as good as he can be."

Will it be McGahee who lights the fire against the Cincinnati Bengals' 24th-rated rushing defense this weekend, or will Rice or McClain step up?

Unfortunately for Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, it's too tough to tell.

All three of the Ravens' runners will have to warm up first.

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