Rice having a quieter season

OWINGS MILLS -- It has been a relatively quiet season for Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice unlike a year ago when he emerged as one of the most dangerous all-purpose backs in the league. Rice remains a productive player, amassing 730 rushing yards and three touchdowns with 40 receptions for 345 yards.

However, it has been six games since Rice eclipsed the century mark for the only time this season.

And Rice hasn't always made the first defender miss each time this season and has rarely broken a long run. His longest run this season was a 30-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengals back in the second game.

And his lone 100-yard rushing performance was on Oct. 10 against the Denver Broncos, a 133-yard, two-touchdown game where he carried it 27 times. His touchdown run during a 37-13 win over the Carolina Panthers marked his first since the Denver game. "I'm just playing my role," Rice said. "One thing I told you all I wasn't going to do was force the issue of trying to make the big play. I say the plays are going to happen. I've been just doing what I have to do."

Against the Panthers, Rice rushed for 65 yards on 19 carries as he averaged 3.4 yards per carry. He did catch six passes for 66 yards, though. Rice has operated as a reliable safety valve for quarterback Joe Flacco as his checkdown option. He caught seven passes for 97 yards against the Miami Dolphins, also rushing for 83 yards on 22 carries. When the Ravens raised Rice's carries to a season-high 28 against the New England Patriots, he only gained 88 yards as he averaged 3.1 yards per carry and caught eight passes for 38 yards while averaging just 4.8 yards per carry. His longest rush was just eight yards as the Patriots shadowed him everywhere he went with a speedy linebacker. "I've been there for Joe in the passing game, and in the run game, we're taking as much as we can right now," Rice said "I'm just trying to be consistent."

Last year, Rice was one of two players along with Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson to produce 2,000 yards from scrimmage as he finished with 2,041 yards. He rushed for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns, catching 78 passes for 702 yards.

"Everybody looked at my numbers last year because I was basically new on the scenery," Rice said. "With me having the extra target on my back, things have been more difficult, especially in the run game. As far as getting out in space, [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron] has been doing a great job of getting me out in space in the pass game, and Joe has been finding me on my checkdowns. There's only one ball to go around. At the beginning of the year, I knew with the guys that we brought in with the help that we brought in, I said I'll take lesser stats than wins over anything." Rice hasn't lacked for patience, or a team-oriented attitude. His next complaint about his workload or how he's being utilized will be his first.

This Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could shape up as a prime opportunity for Rice to break out. The Buccaneers are allowing 136.5 rushing yards per contest, ranking 29th in the league. Tampa Bay has allowed a 100-yard rusher in six of the past eight games.

Yet, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris took exception with the idea that the Buccaneers are vulnerable against the run and easily gashed every week.

"Stats are for losers," Morris said. "You know, we go out and we play our game, and whatever it takes to win football games is the only stat that matters. You know, all those things will be critiqued at the end of the year."

New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory rushed for 158 yards and Carolina Panthers running back Mike Goodson gained 100 yards. However, the Buccaneers shut down San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore last week in a 21-0 shutout. He rushed for only 23 yards on 12 carries.

The Ravens have the 13th-ranked running game, generating 116.6 yards per game on the ground. Will this be a huge game for Rice?

"When you look at what they did against Frank Gore last week, you can't look at their stats and say, 'We're going to run the ball on them,'" Rice said. "So, what I like to say is we'll come into the game with a complete game plan, a mix between run and pass."

The Buccaneers do feature an active middle linebacker in Barrett Ruud. Ruud and Rice figure to be involved in some collisions on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"They do a great job of running to the football," Rice said. "You've got a great middle linebacker over there who is kind of circling their defense. He's the captain of their defense. We've got to pick and choose our spots where we choose to run to, but I'm sure our game plan will be a mixture of both."


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