Ray Rice was stumped.
Asked on Wednesday why he has had so much success playing in Cleveland, Rice pondered the question for a couple of seconds. After all, the Browns are a familiar AFC North foe, one that has had a pretty good defensive front in recent seasons. But yet it was seemingly tougher for him to find an answer to the reporter’s question than it was to find running lanes in his five games at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Maybe there’s something in the grass out there? I don’t know,” Rice said, getting a laugh from reporters.
Whatever the reason, Rice has had more success against the Browns than any other team and he has been especially effective running the ball on the chewed-up grass at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Rice has rushed for 637 yards and three touchdowns on 120 career carries in Cleveland and has averaged 127.4 rushing yards per game there.
“I always look forward to playing these guys. They’re a very tough front,” Rice said. “They get after it. I watched them last week. I had a chance to sit up there and watch them against [the Kansas City Chiefs]. I always try to watch how they do against other running backs. They always do a great job. We’ve definitely got our hands full.”
Rice seemed sincere when praising Sunday’s opponent, but it has been the Browns who have had their hands full with the Rice whenever the Ravens come to Cleveland.
In his rookie season, Rice had his first breakout performance with 154 rushing yards on 21 carries. It was the only time that season that he eclipsed 100 rushing yards.
Three years later, in 2011, Rice rushed for a career-high 204 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries as the Ravens rode him up and down the field on a cold December day.
Rice has received at least 20 carries in every one of his games in Cleveland and at least 25 carries in three of them. He rushed for at least 89 yards in each of those games.
Rice’s play in Cleveland has had a lot to do with the Ravens winning five straight games there, but it’s a two-way street. The Ravens gave him the ball so much because they were winning games and relying on him to put the game away. That shouldn’t be discounted when trying to figure out why Rice has fared so well in Cleveland.
It is also worth noting that each of their previous five games in Cleveland were played in November or December -- Sunday’s game will make it six in a row -- when the teams historically pass less and run the ball more.
And who knows, maybe there is something in the grass.
But Rice’s success in Cleveland gives hope that Rice and a Ravens running game that ranks last in the league in yards per carry might get on track Sunday afternoon.
He is feeling much better, too, after a hip injury that he suffered in the Week 2 win over the Browns sidelined him for one game and nagged him in the next four.
“Being that I am getting back healthy, obviously, I can put my best foot forward out there and just try to put my team in a position where we can win games,” Rice said. “With that being said, I’ll just need to be Ray Rice on Sunday.”
History suggests that should be more than enough to win.