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Ravens

Simmering Rice Set To Run Wild Over Final Month

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(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice can’t ignore the numbers, which demonstrate his production has decreased significantly from a year ago.

Rice rushed for 1,339 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry, had four 100-yard games and five runs over 30 yards in 2009. He also caught 78 passes for 702 yards.

This year Rice has 844 yards rushing, is averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, has a single 100-yard game and one run of 30 yards. He has 49 receptions for 410 yards.

“The carries and the average might be down, but I think as far as production, I’ve maxed out with the looks I’ve been getting,” Rice insisted Thursday.

He intends to make a run at bolstering those statistics over the final four games of the season.

“You might say the numbers are down, but if you look at where I’m at now and where I was last year, it’s not that far off — even though there’s an extra target on me,” he said, referring to the increased attention he received after making the Pro Bowl last season.

Rice attributes the shortfall to an ever-changing offensive line that lost tackle Jared Gaither to injury at the outset and at times has been without ailing right guard Chris Chester.

“We’ve got to get the chemistry back in our offensive line,” Rice said. “I think they’ve been doing a fair job of getting on guys; we’ve just got to keep our blocks longer. We’ve got to be patient.”

It’s not that this season has been a disaster for Rice. It’s just that it hasn’t thus far been anywhere close to 2009, when he and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson were the only two players in the league to exceed 2,000 yards in offense.

Coach John Harbaugh points out that the Ravens are running the ball more this year than last. But Baltimore is averaging only 3.6 yards per attempt, and that’s what concerns him.

“Our yards per carry is the issue more than anything. We have to run better, more effectively. That’s our goal,” Harbaugh said. “It’s important because it opens up everything. If you can run effectively, it opens up the pass game, helps you protect. It all ties together.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco added, “When we run the ball, we have to run the ball better. I don’t know that we need to do it any more or anything like that, but we need to get a little more production.”

Rice’s average is down in part because he hasn’t broken free in the secondary as he did last season. A year ago, he scored on runs of 83, 59 and 33 yards. He also peeled off a 50-yarder at New England.

This year, the 5-foot-8, 212-pounder has had two runs longer than 20 yards. Period.

“The big play hasn’t happened, but one thing I can say is … I’m still heading toward a 1,000-yard season,” Rice contended. “The big runs will happen. Being able to get the yards the way I’ve been getting them, especially at my size, sometimes you’ve just got what’s there. I’m not going to force the issue. I’m going to trust my guys, and I’m sure we’ll get the job done.”

Rice expects that to happen Monday night in Houston, even though the Texans have the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

“The time is now, being that we want to accomplish certain things toward the end of the year and get this late-season push toward the playoffs,” Rice said. “We’ve got to get that fixed and corrected.”

Rice just wants to contribute to Baltimore’s playoff push, and if that means blocking in the pocket while Flacco drops back to throw, so be it.

“Right now I’m in position to help my team as much as a I can, whether that’s blocking, rushing, receiving,” he said. “Right now it’s about one thing, and that’s getting to the playoffs.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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