(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It wasn’t the way John Harbaugh wanted his team to start the season. Forget coming off a Super Bowl victory, a locked and reloaded defense and a $120 million quarterback.  John Harbaugh wouldn’t have wanted to see a game of checkers turn out the way the it did for the Ravens in the season opener.

A 49-27 debacle at the hands of the Denver Broncos, the game was littered with more mistakes than the streets of downtown Baltimore. In a loss like this, there is plenty of blame to go around, but the Ravens simply got away from the one thing and the one person that has been the single biggest part of their road to the post-season the last five years: Ray Rice.

The running game was a complete failure. “We have to run the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “We are definitely not ‘there’ in terms of our ability to run the ball. We’ve got to get better.” Rice had just 12 carries for 36 yards in the loss. Some people say it’s all about touches with Ray Rice and to an extent, they are correct. When Rice gets at least 20 touches in a game, the Ravens are 34-12 in his career – a .739 winning percentage – compared to just 13-12 when he does not. Focus on the running game only: when Rice gets at least 20 carries in a game, the Ravens are 22-3 in his career, good enough for a blistering .880 winning percentage.

The Ravens passed on 16 of their first 21 plays last Thursday night and were leading by halftime in the game 17-14. So it naturally begs the question, when you have a lead – especially against Peyton Manning – why not control the clock and run the ball? The easiest way to beat Manning is to keep him off the field and the only way to do that is to run the ball. The Ravens did not and Manning made them pay the price.

I am a huge Joe Flacco supporter and believe the sky is the limit for him, but running the football still wins games in the NFL. Tom Brady hasn’t won a championship since Corey Dillon was his running back. Peyton Manning won his only Super Bowl behind 21 carries and 113 yards from Dominic Rhodes. Even the pass-happy New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees had the 6th best rushing attack in the NFL when they won it all. The Ravens need to go back to Ray Rice if they want to get back on track. Expect it in week 2 against Cleveland.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkZinno


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