Ever since the Ravens' running game got stonewalled by the Denver Broncos last month, the AFC North champions have rebounded in a major way on the ground.
During that 34-17 loss, the Ravens were ineffective running the football and abandoned the run for the most part after falling behind by 28 points by the fourth quarter. The NFL's 11th-ranked rushing offense finished with 56 rushing yards on 19 attempts, an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
In the following three games, though, including an AFC wild-card playoff win, 24-9, over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Ravens have engineered a major turnaround as a rushing offense.
With a season-high 224 rushing yards on 45 carries in a win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, 206 rushing yards on 46 carries against the Cincinnati Bengals to close out the regular season and another 172 rushing yards on 32 carries against the Colts, the Ravens have totaled 602 rushing yards for an average of 200.6 rushing yards over the past three games.
"Throughout the course of the season, if you look at it as a whole, we've been pretty consistent with the run game, big-picture wise," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've had games where they haven't been as good. You know, if you get behind, it's hard to run the ball. When you can't run the ball as well, like the last Denver game, which we really wanted to run the ball, and they just did a great job, give them credit.
"They did a good job against us up front and we couldn't run the ball. So, you want to be able to run the ball. They would say that, most every team in the league would say that, and for us that's going to be a big part of our formula."
In particular, rookie running back Bernard Pierce has been on a tear lately wih 103 rushing yards on 13 carries against the Colts in his first NFL playoff game. That included a 43-yard run.
A third-round draft pick from Temple, Pierce has complemented Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice with a rugged approach to the game that blends speed and power at 6-foot, 218 pounds.
His style is different from Ray, but both guys are capable of making big plays," center Matt Birk said. "When they're in the open field, they can stretch it and take it the distance or most of the distance. They're a little different style, but you can never have enough running backs. Those guys take a pounding, and we're lucky we have two good ones."
Rice rushed for 70 yards on 15 carries against the Colts, but uncharacteristicaly lost two fumbles. He rushed for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season.
"We're taking care of each other," Rice said. "That's the one thing that you're seeing out there. I spell myself; there are times where I just tell him to go. I have that trust in him now, where my career, you know I just signed a five-year deal. So, what am I going to do? Go out there and burn myself out in Year One? That's just not smart. I made a Pro Bowl, but that's not the goal. The goal here is to win a Super Bowl, so we're going to try to get our best guys out on the field, and Bernard is a key talent that we have.
"And there is only one ball to go around, but obviously you see that I never complain about my carries. There's one ball, and we all can share it. So, that weapon going forward is really going to be key for us. It's 1A and 1B; that's how we see it. Obviously, I told him, rookie year, a lot at stake, but when you're drafted that high the expectation is to perform, and he's been doing a great job."
Pierce rushed for 532 yards and one touchdown during the regular season as the replacement for Ricky Williams, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Pierce rushed for a career-high 123 yards against the Giants followed by 89 yards against the Bengals and the 103 yards on Sunday for a total of 315 yards and an average of 105 per contest
"It's a definite confidence booster, because I just want to be able to keep getting better," Pierce said. "And I've proven that to myself and everybody else. I'm just excited.
"As of right now we try to mix up series, mix up plays, and we just try to make sure each other is fresh for the second half, and it's been working out great so far."