The Ravens inexplicably went away from Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice after he had success on their first drive during Sunday's blowout loss to the Houston Texans. He didn't receive a carry on their next two, albeit brief, possessions. And after handing Rice his fourth carry of the game on the last play of the first quarter, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had an interception returned for a touchdown, giving the Texans a 16-3 lead.
At that point, the game spiraled out of their control, and the deficit of two and then three and then four scores meant that Rice would have to become a non-factor on the ground. He finished the game with a season-low nine carries for 42 yards. He caught five passes, but the Texans keyed in on him and held him to 12 yards.
It was the second time that Rice got less than 15 touches this season, and the third time in the past three weeks that he got less than 20. But naturally, since the Ravens lost a game, his workload was questioned.
"We could have stayed with the run a little more patiently," Ravens coach John Harbaugh admitted Monday. "Once they got the tip-ball interception, we felt like we needed to try to get back in that thing a little bit more quickly because of the type of team they are. We probably all say we could have been a little bit more patient with the run – whether it's Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce or whoever it is."
Sunday's loss brought back memories from their losses during the 2011 regular season, and elicits similar chants about how Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should be given a permanent bye week. Rice averaged nine carries a game in those four losses, the low point coming when he got just five carries in a 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. If you throw in his receptions, though, Rice averaged 17.8 touches in those losses.
Overall last season, Rice averaged 18.2 carries per game and 4.8 receptions while being targeted 6.5 times per game. He had 11 games with at least 20 touches and eight with 25 or more.
Through seven games this season, the stats confirm what you have likely been seeing: Rice isn't as involved. He is averaging 15.1 carries and 4.1 receptions. He has been targeted 6.1 times per game. Still, he is on pace to rack up 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns on 242 carries, and the Ravens are making sure their star running back, who signed a lucrative new contract extension this summer, isn't taking too much of a pounding.
But there is reason to believe Rice's workload will increase, and it's not just because Harbaugh spoke out about it Monday.
In the first seven games last season, Rice averaged 15.3 carries and 4.7 catches a game as the Ravens got off to a 5-2 start. His carries and touches picked up as the season went on, and he had at least 20 carries in eight of the team's final nine games, including postseason. The Ravens would be wise to follow a similar script as the temperature gets colder. If you believe Harbaugh, it sounds like they will.