Rice developing into dangerous receiver

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Rice sized up the hulking linebackers positioned across the line of scrimmage, and the Baltimore Ravens' running back had to smile as he accelerated into his pattern. It's a simple route, really.

Rice drifts out of the backfield, presents himself as a target and then his elusiveness and instincts take over.

The checkdown pass is emerging as a dangerous weapon in the Ravens' arsenal because of Rice's ability to dodge tackles and pick up extra yardage in the open field after the catch.

During the Ravens' 17-13 victory Saturday night over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium., Rice caught a game-high eight passes for 67 yards out of the backfield.

It was a game filed with athletic mismatches created by Rice.

"Yeah, I like my chances on linebackers," said Rice, who finished with 99 yards of total offense. "I feel as if I go against the greatest linebackers, if not the greatest linebacker to ever play the game, every day in practice. If I beat [All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis] a few times, I feel like anybody else I go against, I'm not downing anybody, but I feel like my confidence level against anyone one-on-one, I can make miss."

For Rice, that statement isn't mere bravado.

It's almost always the truth.

"He's quick and he's really hard to tackle," offensive tackle Jared Gaither said. "He displayed that."

With the football dir ected toward him nine times, Rice connected with quarterback Joe Flacco on all but one of those attempts for completions while averaging 8.4 yards per reception.

"He's a little guy so he can get in there, and he has good balance," Flacco said. "I just get him the ball in space and you never know what's going to happen."

In the second quarter, Flacco hit Rice with a short pass to his right that Rice transformed into a 15-yard gain. Two plays later, his catch over the middle turned into a 14-yard reception. Rice's balance and change of direction were particularly impressive.

Former Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee, Rice's primary backup, wound up capping the 13-play, 90-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

"You put the ball in Ray's hands and you know he's good for six yards or better catching the ball out of the backfield," McGahee said. "You know he's going to give it to you."

A year ago as a rookie, the former Rutgers star led the Ravens' running backs with 33 receptions for 273 yards while finishing third on the team in rushing with 454 yards.

Rice wasn't an experienced receiver when he arrived at Baltimore, catching 37 career passes at Rutgers in three seasons before declaring for the draft as a junior.

"I could count on my hand how many screens I ran at Rutgers," said Rice, who rushed for 4,926 career yards and scored 49 touchdowns to set the Scarlet Knight's all-time records.

With the Ravens, though, catching screens and flares out of the backfield is rapidly becoming a big part of his job responsibilities.

And Rice is relishing the opportunity to embarrass a few linebackers on pass routes.

"Especially against a Cover 2 defense, you know you're going to have one guy to beat for me," Rice said. "It just felt good as a running back to catch the bal l, make one guy miss and get as many yards as you can."

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

Notebook: Oher holds his own against Peppers Ravens dissatisfied with red-zone efficiency

By Aaron Wilson

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher clashed with Carolina Panthers star defensive end Julius Peppers throughout the game Saturday night, effectively walling off the four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. Peppers wound up recording just one tackle overall and he got close to registering one sack.

"I don't think he got to the quarterback at all, so I think Michael did a great job," offensive tackle Jared Gaither said. "It just shows the kind of player and person he is to rise to the occasion like that."

Oher was low-key afterward about his encounter with Peppers, one of the top defensive ends in the league.

Oher shifted to left offensive tackle in the third quarter with Joe Reitz taking his place on the right side.

"I got to do my job," Oher said. "He's a great player. I had my hands full the entire game. I had to play every snap, but I think I did OK. I can g et a lot better."

Oher and tight end Todd Heap did a solid job of blocking Peppers in tandem in a few different situations.

"That guy is a heck of a player," Heap said of Peppers. "He's a little bit bigg er, stronger and faster, so you really have to focus on your technique. Whether it was the tackle or the tight end or whoever, we were able to get him blocked."

Oher's biggest mistake was a costly one, jumping offsides at the Panthers' 1-yard line in the first quarter as a drive stalled.

"That's how you learn as a young player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. 'You don't jump offsides on the one or the six-inch line."

RED-ZONE ISSUES: The Ravens weren't pleased with not scoring on every trip inside the red zone as they recorded touchdowns on two of their three drives inside the Panthers' 20-yard line.

"We wish we could have scored three touchdowns tonight," quarterback Joe Flacco said.

Added Heap: "If we could have gotten rid of a couple costly penalties, we really would have accomplished everything we wanted. If we eliminate those penalties, I think we'll be right where we want to be."

Oher's false start, a delay of game penalty and Gaither allowing a sack to defensive end Tyler Brayton stalled the Ravens' first-quarter drive.

"In the red zone, yes, you've got to be able to run the ball in," Harbaugh said. "It gets small, especially when you get into the tight red zone. You've got to be able to score from the 10, 15, or 12-yard line throwing the ball."

The Ravens wound up accomplishing that goal on Flacco's nine-yard touchdown pass to Heap after Heap had dropped a pass earlier in the game.

"To see Joe make that throw and Todd make that catch, those are the kind of things that give us a chance to be effective down there," Harbaugh said. "That is the scenario where we've got to get better, and also on third down, we've got to get better."

QUICK HITS: Offensive guard Marshal Yanda started in place of Chris Chester in his most extended playing time since tearing three knee ligaments last season against the Indianapolis Colts. "I got to play alongside Marshal Yanda, which I haven't been able to do much this preseason," center Matt Birk said. "He is playing well, and it was good to get in some work with him." ... Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tackled wide receiver Steve Smith in the open field with the benefit of a good angle. "That was just Ed Reed slowing him down so I could get there," Ngata said. "I was just happy that he did slow him down, so I had a chance to get there and make a play. That's what us Ravens do, we run to the ball and make a tackle." ... Offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (sprained right ankle) is no longer wearing a protective boot and predicted he would play Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons when the Ravens conclude the preseason. "Oh yeah, it's much better," Cousins said. ... Harbaugh isn't making much out of the Ravens being 3-0 in the preseason. "That doesn't really mean anything in the big scheme, because they don't count," Harbaugh said. "You tell the guys the goal is to win the game. In the big picture, no, they don't mean that much." ... The first NFL roster cutdown date looms on Tuesday when teams are required to get down to 75 players from their current allotment of 80. ... Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb led the Ravens with seven tackles, including one for a loss. ... Several healthy players didn't play in the game, including kicker Graham Gano, quarterbacks Cleo Lemon and Drew Willy, wide receivers Eron Riley, Yamon Figurs and Ernie Wheelwright, running back Cedric Peerman, fullback Jason Cook, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah, defensive end Will Johnson, outside linebacker Willie VanDeSteeg and tight end Davon Drew. ... Harbaugh praised running back Jalen Parmale for his 48-yard run in the fourth quarter as well as wide receiver Kelley Washington (three catches, 66 yards).

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

Ravens Insider Top Stories