Monday September 12th, 2011

Ray Rice ended his personal struggles against the Steelers in a big way in Week 1. (AP)

In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a play or performance from Sunday that stood out above the rest.

Baltimore's 35-7 dismantling of Pittsburgh may have been the most stunning result of Week 1, with the Ravens defense forcing seven turnovers, including five by Ben Roethlisberger.

On the other side of the ball, it was Ray Rice stealing the show. The fourth-year Ravens running back turned in 107 yards rushing, 42 receiving and a pair of touchdowns. Baltimore made it a focus to get him the ball early and often, in a variety of ways, and he made that approach pay off.

The performance was especially impressive considering that Baltimore's starting offensive line had not taken a snap together in the preseason, with the late signing of Bryant McKinnie and injuries to Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk.

So how did Rice manage to give the Steelers fits? Let's take a look ...

The Ravens set the tone right away, lining up in a Strong-I formation on their first snap, with tight end Ed Dickson next to McKinnie on the left and Vonta Leach offset in front of Rice.

The play called for Rice to follow Leach right into the gap between McKinnie and Dickson, meaning that the Ravens were running right at James Harrison:

"On the first play of the game, me and (Ben) Grubbs had a double block on the linebacker (Harrison) and that really set a tone," said McKinnie, who insisted he was not all of 400 pounds when Baltimore signed him as a free agent from Minnesota.

McKinnie helped left guard Ben Grubbs slow Harrison, then punched forward and sealed off James Farrior too.

Rice exploded through the hole, shed a tackle attempt by Steelers safety Ryan Clark and gained 36 yards (Watch the video here). Two plays later, Joe Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a touchdown.

While that play showed off Rice's explosiveness and speed, he put his vision on display later in the first quarter on a first-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 8. Baltimore lined up in a formation similar to the opening play from scrimmage, only this time shifted Dickson to the right and an extra receiver to the left.

The play call was essentially the same as the first one, too, with Rice looking to follow Leach off tackle on McKinnie's side. Only this time, the Steelers were all over it and took that route away.

So, instead of following Leach into a pile of bodies, Rice cut back inside and found a crease up the middle. He wound up gaining seven, then punched it in from the Pittsburgh 1 on third down for a 14-0 Baltimore lead.

Rice was far from done.

On Baltimore's final scoring drive of the first half, he opened with a pair of rushes for 22 combined yards, then got to work in the passing attack. On a third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 40, Rice crept out of the backfield to catch a Flacco toss and pick up 25 yards.

He then sealed the drive with a touchdown reception on a 3rd-and-6 play from the Steelers 11. That play, maybe more than any other Sunday, showed off Rice's versatility and the ways Baltimore takes advantage of it.

Instead of standing next to Flacco in the shotgun, Rice lined up wide to the left in a five-"receiver" formation.

The man trying to cover him is inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. This is what we like to call a "mismatch."

Rice ran to the 7, faked inside, broke back out and had absolutely no problem shaking Timmons to receive the pass. He then turned upfield and beat Timmons to the pylon for his second touchdown of the game (Video here).

As we saw on those three plays, Rice's Sunday success against the Steelers can be chalked up to two things: The surprisingly dominant play of Baltimore offensive line and Rice's ability to pick up yards in a number of different ways. Rice put on full display in Week 1 what makes him so dangerous, flashing his speed, vision and versatility in a spectacular performance against a hated division rival. There are not a lot of backs in the NFL that could have done exactly what Rice did against the Steelers.

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