As the Vikings finalize their preparation for the Baltimore Ravens, the defending champion's best hope for making the playoffs is to win the second wild card spot. Following Sunday's game with the Vikings, the Ravens play at Detroit, vs. New England and at Cincinnati – all currently division leaders. The reason for their struggles this year is due in large part to the lack of a running game.
Prior to Joe Flacco's impressive postseason run, the Ravens offense was viewed as run-first production in a similar vein to the Vikings, but no team has fallen on harder times than Baltimore.
Consistently in the top third of the league in rushing over the last decade, things can't get much worse for the Ravens – whether it's on first down, second down or third down.
On first-and-10 situations, the standard first-down situation, the Ravens have had almost half of their rushing attempts for the season (164). On those plays, they have averaged 3.12 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th in the league in that category. On a typical run, the Ravens have put themselves in position to have a second-and-7 situation – unconducive to sustaining drives.
Not much changes on second down for the Baltimore run game. As is the wont of NFL teams, if they throw a first-down incompletion, it is typically followed up by a running play. That has accounted for 81 of their team rushing attempts on second-and-10 plays and the Ravens have averaged 3.24 yards a carry, which ranks 21st in the league. Unfortunately for Baltimore, that is the upside of their production on second down.
The Ravens rank 24th in yardage on second-and-9 carries (1.3 yards on average), 29th on second-and-7 (0.67 yards), 32nd on second-and-6 (0.83 yards), 26th on second-and-5 (2.0 yards), 30th on second-and-4 (1.1 yards), 28th on second-and-3 (1.25 yards) and 22nd on second-and-2 (1.29 yards).
Equally troubling is their lack of being able to convert on third-and-short yardage runs. On third-and-3 runs, the Ravens have averaged 2.0 yards a carry. On third-and-2 carries, the Ravens have run just three times for four yards – converting just one first down. Even worse, on their third-and-1 carries, the Ravens have failed to convert on six of 16 attempts.
"The biggest issue is that we don't seem to be getting any yards," Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked about his running game. "All the other issues add up to that, without getting into all that. It's always a compilation of a lot of things. We certainly don't have the running game that the Vikings have. We envy that running game but we have not been able to get that done like that so far this year."
The blame lies somewhere. The offensive line has struggled through a transition with the retirement of Matt Birk and the trading of Bryant McKinnie. But Ray Rice, one of the elite running backs in the last decade, has struggled badly. He is averaging just 2.9 yards a carry on 169 rushing attempts. He has only had one game with a rush of more than 14 yards. For comparison purposes, Adrian Peterson has seven games with at least one run of 22 yards or more.
"I don't know what they did last year to make him so effective, run and pass, but we do know that he's coming off a hip injury and he may not be the Ray Rice that everybody knows," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "But when they get seams for him, he hits the seams. He's a very patient runner."
Rice's backup, Bernard Pierce, isn't doing any better. In fact, he's doing worse. Pierce is averaging 2.8 yards a carry.
For a team that prides itself on stuffing the run and making an offense one-dimensional, the Ravens may be an ideal matchup for the Vikings Sunday. They are struggling at a critical component of a successful offense and, whether the blame lies with runners or the blockers is irrelevant. The Ravens struggle in an area the majority of their 2013 opponents have been able to exploit. If the Vikings can do the same, the pressure will be on the secondary, because Baltimore will be one-dimensional.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stats show immense struggles of Ravens runs
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