Ray Rice of the Ravens and Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks were widely viewed as two of the best running backs in the NFL entering 2013. While their running styles are different, both ranked near the top of the league in yards from scrimmage in 2012 and were selected to participate in the Pro Bowl.
But while Lynch went “Beast Mode,” particularly during the playoffs, while helping lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, Rice’s performance this past season can probably be described as “Yeesh Mode.”
Rice rushed for just 660 yards, his lowest rushing total since becoming the starter in 2009 and fewer than part-time players such as LeGarrette Blount, Lamar Miller and Bilal Powell. And his 3.1 yards per carry ranked 45th among qualifying running backs (though it was still better than teammate Bernard Pierce).
While the play of the Ravens offensive line had a major role in his struggles and the tweaks that running game coordinator Juan Castillo made were also a factor, Rice’s lack of broken tackles tells the story of his disappointing season and shows that some of the drop-off in the three-time Pro Bowler’s performance was on him.
Rice broke just nine tackles on his 214 carries this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That total was by far the lowest among NFL running backs who got more than 155 carries. And Rice, who ranked 19th in the league in total carries, averaged just 1.52 yards after contact, which was also the lowest among qualifiers.
Lynch, meanwhile, during these playoffs has broken more than twice as many tackles as Rice did in 15 regular season games. Lynch forced a season-high 13 missed tackles during the Seahawks’ divisional round win over the New Orleans Saints and seven more in Sunday's NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Like I said, Lynch and Rice have different running styles. Lynch, a bigger back, is more likely to lower his shoulder and try to run over a defender while Rice, whose explosiveness was sapped (possibly due to a nagging hip injury), was the kind of back who will dance around a defender in the open field or shock them with a stiff arm.
But Rice was clearly not himself this season, and contrasting his broken tackle total with that of Lynch, the league-leader in that category with 75 during the regular season, shows there was a wide gap between them.
Rice just turned 27 today and the Ravens are confident that he will bounce back in 2014. But he has a lot of carries on the odometer, so there’s no guarantee he will get back to being one of the NFL’s best running backs again.