Three quarterbacks have more yards rushing this season than Ray Rice, which goes a long way toward explaining why the Baltimore Ravens own the league's 27th-ranked running game and have a disappointing .500 record.
Rice has 197 yards on the ground and is averaging a mere 2.8 yards per attempt. Of his 71 carries, 40 have gone for two yards or fewer and 20 have been for negative or no yardage.
Rice is 33rd on the league's rushing list, behind quarterbacks Michael Vick, Terrell Pryor and Russell Wilson and only seven yards better than Kansas City signal-caller Alex Smith.
A portion of the blame needs to be directed at a struggling offensive line that has not quite overcome the loss of retired center Matt Birk. Rice, however, just doesn't appear to be zipping through the line in the manner that earned him three trips to the Pro Bowl.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco suggested Wednesday that Rice may still be feeling the effects of a hip flexor strain that sidelined him in Week 3.
"He was banged up for a couple of weeks, and this is his first couple weeks back," Flacco said. "Anytime you get a little banged up and aren't 100 percent, you need some time before you can get full explosion."
But Rice insisted his injury is not an issue.
Days after he ran for a season-high 74 yards on 24 carries in a 26-23 win over Miami on Oct. 6, Rice said, "I had one injury. I'm all right. I've been pretty fresh. I'm getting there."
Last Sunday, however, he ran for only 34 yards on 14 attempts and twice was stuffed from inside the Green Bay 4-yard line in a 19-17 defeat.
"We would love to run the ball better," Rice said. "It's not something that you plan on, going out there and messing up. The run game has to get better. We'll just keep sawing at it."
Baltimore (3-3) faces AFC North rival Pittsburgh (1-4) on Sunday, and the Ravens sure could use their running game in a physical duel between two teams that rarely rely on finesse.
"Obviously, we want to run the ball as much as we can," guard Marshal Yanda said. "We want to get after them. Hopefully we get to, but you never know. We'd like to. We want to."
The defending Super Bowl sure could use the Rice of a year ago, when the 5-foot-8 dynamo ran for 1,143 yards — an average of 4.4 yards per carry — and caught 61 passes for 478 yards. This year, Rice has only 20 catches, none for longer than 11 yards.
Rice is the only player in Ravens history to have four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He's going to need to pick it up dramatically to make it five in a row.
The toughest thing is, Baltimore has been performing well in practice. But it has not thus far translated to success in games.
"We work so hard," Rice said. "I know for a fact that what we get in, between weightlifting, practice and everything we do, what we put out there is a little frustrating."
Wide receiver Torrey Smith believes it's been tough on Rice, not just because his numbers are down but because the defending champs are struggling overall.
"Ray has handled it as well as you can," Smith said. "Obviously you're going to be frustrated, especially when you're him and you're used to performing a certain way. The biggest thing is we haven't been winning and we haven't been doing as well as we wanted to on offense. We haven't met our own expectations, and he's definitely frustrated with that."
The Ravens have been working particularly hard this week to correct the team's most obvious flaw.
"Everything's got to come together better," coach John Harbaugh said. "There's a lot that goes into it. There are many different things that we've looked at over the last few days to try to improve. We definitely have the men to do the job. We've got the talent up front and at running back."
Yanda and his teammates on the offensive line are eager to do what they can to let Rice free again.
"I just think we need to keep fighting to get him going and open up holes the best we can, give him the best look we can," Yanda said. "We want to let him do his thing because we all understand what he does best. He's a great player. We want to get him going."
In other news, linebacker Jameel McClain returned to practice on Wednesday after missing 10 months with a spinal cord contusion.
"They tried to kill me, I'm not dead, I'm still here, doing what I love," McClain said.
The Ravens have three weeks to make a decision about whether to put him on the 53-man roster.
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