Will Rice be able to bounce back?
Will Pierce be ready to play?
Who wins the battle between Forsett and Taliaferro?
Here are my thoughts. What's yours?
Posted 07 July 2014 - 07:59 AM
Sports on Earth: Mandatory Monday: Top Rushers
The Five Worst Rushing Games
28. Baltimore Ravens
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce finished last and second-to-last in Football Outsiders' DYAR statistic. According to the advanced metrics, they gained 300 fewer yards than replacement level backs would have gained given similar carry totals in similar situations. To prove this theory, the Ravens drafted replacement level back Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round to see if he can do a better job.
Talliaferro looked great at the Senior Bowl. Have you ever noticed that small-school running backs always look great at the Senior Bowl? One reason is that major-program bell cow running backs almost never attend the Senior Bowl, leaving lots of reps for small-school guys. The mandatory Senior Bowl playbooks all look like something Gary Kubiak would give his nephew as a stocking stuffer. There are lots of basic off-tackle runs that require no learning curve and allow quick, tough little runners to use their athleticism. Among us media-scout types, a selection bias also creeps in. "Hey, I don't recognize the helmet of that kid who just ran for 15 yards against defenders who have never met each other. Oh, that's the converted quarterback from Whatsamatta U in Frostbite Falls! Better make a note of him."
That's not to say Jerick McKinnon and Taliaferro proved nothing at the Senior Bowl. They showed that they could find holes, cut back and break tackles against top competition. But "looked great at the Senior Bowl," does not translate into "string of 1,500-yard NFL seasons," especially for FCS guys. Also, Taliaferro got into a little legal trouble in May, and the Ravens don't need any more of that.
Rice, of course, is in his own kettle of fish. It appears his ugly domestic incident may not affect his availability this season. But Rice may simply be finished after six seasons and 1,430 carries. There is nothing unusual about that for a 27-year-old running back, especially a small one who has played the equivalent of an extra season (12 games, 750 yards, 37 catches) in the playoffs. It would be easy to blame Rice's sudden drop on the offensive line, but other indicators suggest a deeper problem: his yards-per-reception are in a three-year decline, for example.
The Ravens no longer have Vonta Leach at fullback and turn to their bench when they want a rushing threat at quarterback. Hope for a rushing renaissance rests not with Rice, Pierce or Taliaferro, but Kubiak and his zone-stretch system. That system often takes a long time to bear fruit, and Kubiak reminded no one of Bill Walsh last year, so rushing optimism must remain guarded.
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