Ravens' running game hits a wall

OWINGS MILLS -- Those bruising runs, intimidating stiff arms and helmet-rattling blocks that have defined the Baltimore Ravens' bullish running game all season disappeared Sunday during a loss to the New York Giants.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was the leading rusher for Baltimore in a 30-10 defeat at Giants Stadium, scrambling for 57 yards on six carries as the Ravens' ground game was generally stonewalled for 121 yards on 26 carries.

Against New York, running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain combined for just 47 yards on 19 carries. The Giants' front seven penetrated the backfield on a regular basis, derailing running plays from getting started as no running back had a carry longer than seven yards.

Plus, the Ravens went away from the run after falling behind 20-3 by halftime as the defense was gashed repeatedly by the Giants' running game for 207 yards.

"It was definitely tough sledding out there for us, tougher than usual," Rice said. "That's a great defense. Give them credit. Sometimes, you hit a wall, but we'll get it cranked up again."

This wasn't the first vanishing act from the Ravens' committee of running backs this year against a quality opponent.

The Ravens have averaged 102.4 yards per contest against teams with winning records, including a season-low 51 yards on 19 carries for a 2.7 average per carry in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts (6-4), 132 yards and a 3.5 average in a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans (10-0) and 103 yards and a 3.1 average in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3).

Conversely, the Ravens have averaged 185.4 yards against teams with losing records.

Baltimore generated a season-high 229 yards on 46 carries in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals (1-8-1) to open the season, and nearly rushed for 200 yards in recent wins over the Oakland Raiders (2-8) and Cleveland Browns (4-6).

That's a major disparity that raises questions about the Ravens' capability to run the football consistently against the elite teams.

For the season, Baltimore ranks third in the NFL in rushing with a 146.8 average and 13 touchdowns.

Although none of the three backs has established himself as the primary ball carrier with McGahee leading the team with 481 yards and five touchdowns followed by Rice's 375 yards and McClain's 371 yards and five touchdowns, Baltimore collectively has 1,468 rushing yards and a 4.0 average per carry.

"I don't want to sound bragful or boastful, but you have to have a certain mindset and a certain mentality with the running game and it starts with toughness and being aggressive," center Jason Brown said prior to the Giants game. "We pride ourselves in that toughness that we bring out there on the football field, but I'm not going to be bragful or boastful about it."

There was no cause for bragging or boasting after the Giants game.

Not after the Ravens' NFL-leading time of possession average (33 minutes 56 seconds) was held to 29 minutes and eight seconds.

Not after McGahee and Rice averaged 2.0 yards and 2.4 yards, respectively.

Not after gaining just 40 rushing yards on 12 carries for a 3.3 average by halftime.

Not on a day where Flacco bolting the pocket was the most effective running strategy.

"Well, that's what you need to do sometimes," Flacco said. "That needs to be done against some teams in order to win games. Any way we can pick up first downs, we're going to do it."

NOTE: It's feared that offensive tackle Jared Gaither could be out for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, or perhaps even a few games with an injury to his right shoulder based on initial results of his magnetic resonance imaging exam.

Gaither was relegated to blocking with one arm against the Giants. Wide receiver Derrick Mason is also nursing a painful dislocated left shoulder.

"We'll see if he'll play on Sunday, it's day-to-day," Harbaugh said of Gaither during his weekly radio show. "I don't know if they're going to play on Sunday. Those are pretty severe things. Gaither couldn't lift his arm over his shoulder against the Giants and neither could Derrick."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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