Ray Rice has yet to reach 100 yards rushing for the season. (Bill Wippert/AP)
Ray Rice was stuffed for no gain on a carry with 4:29 left in the second quarter on Sunday. The Ravens did not run the ball again until the 4:50 mark of the fourth quarter, some eight possessions later.
Was that extreme shift toward Joe Flacco and the passing game a move of necessity -- one forced by Baltimore trailing Buffalo from the early stages of a 23-20 loss? Or was it a more damning indictment of larger problems: Ray Rice's health, the Ravens' offensive line and the play calling in general?
Those are questions the Ravens will find themselves wrestling with between now and next Sunday, when the defending champs take their 2-2 record to Miami.
"We're definitely going to get better," Flacco said. "We have to get better. A lot of that falls on me."
Flacco's right there. He endured a miserable afternoon against a battered Buffalo secondary, which was missing safety Jairus Byrd and CBs Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Flacco threw a career-high five interceptions (he had just one previous game with more than three), leading to 13 Buffalo points. His final miscue came on a tipped ball with Baltimore driving for a tie or win late, with rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso diving for his second INT of the game.
Rice, whose status for this game was up in the air all week after he sat out last Sunday, saw all of five carries for 17 yards in the game. His backup and Week 3 replacement starter, Bernard Pierce, gained seven yards on four rushing attempts.
Add it up, and the Ravens ran the ball nine times compared to 50 throws for Flacco -- against a Buffalo team that entered this week giving up more yards on the ground than everyone but Jacksonville.
"We're not running the ball well," was coach John Harbaugh's explanation for the Ravens' two rushing attempts after halftime.
That hardly feels like an adequate enough explanation, though Baltimore's continued struggles to move the football with its backs surely is of growing concern. After running for more than 1,900 yards last season, the Ravens' ground attack has yet to top the century mark in a game in 2013.
Stuck in a one-dimensional offensive hole, the Ravens have had to place more pressure on Flacco and their defense to get the job done early this year. The D attempted to do its part Sunday, forcing three Buffalo turnovers (and nearly a fourth late, which would have set Baltimore up in the red zone, down by three). But even that unit will leave Buffalo with questions, courtesy of the 203 yards the Bills piled up on the ground.
Of course, were it not for the Ravens defense, this might be a 1-3 or 0-4 team. Baltimore allowed just 15 points total over the past two weeks, in squeaking by Cleveland and pummeling the Texans.
The offense has yet to get anything figured out. Even in that 30-9 rout of Houston, Flacco's group mustered a mere 236 yards, with the defense and special teams chipping in a touchdown apiece.
The losses this offseason on that side of the football were much talked-about: Dennis Pitta to injury, Anquan Boldin to a trade. There certainly were enough questions among the remaining depth chart to leave Ravens fans a little concerned heading into 2013.
No one could have imagined Baltimore's offense slumping to this degree, mainly because of the Rice-Pierce combo in the backfield. But Rice has yet to top 36 yards rushing in a game this season (he hit that mark exactly in both Weeks 1 and 2), while Pierce is now averaging all of 2.7 yards per carry.
As a result, there is plenty of blame to go around in Baltimore. As Harbaugh summed up succinctly on Sunday: "We didn't play well at all."
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