A lack of big plays in 2010 prompted the Ravens to overhaul their passing attack (again) this offseason. They cut ties with veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and T.J. Houshmandazeh; brought in speedy veteran wide receiver Lee Evans; drafted a pair of rookie wideouts in Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss; and went with youth at tight end, where second-year players Ed Dickson and Ed Pitta have both spent time with the first-team offense.
But the absence of explosiveness wasn’t limited to the passing game. Ray Rice, the team’s biggest home-run hitter in the 2009 season, had trouble breaking the big one in 2010. He had one run longer than 30 yards (a 50-yarder against the Saints) and his longest touchdown run was 14 yards (in the divisional round loss to the Steelers). His yards-per-carry average dipped from 5.3 in his Pro Bowl season to a career-low 4.0 last season.
The Ravens hope their revamped receiving corps will result in longer completions from quarterback Joe Flacco and more points on the scoreboard. But if Friday night’s preseason win over the Chiefs is any indication, the acquisition of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach should mean more big plays in the running game, too.
In the second quarter of the 31-13 win, Leach laid a key block on linebacker Pierre Walters during Rice’s 26-yard touchdown run. “That's just the way I play. I'm a physical guy,” Leach said later.
I wasn’t watching Leach on every play, but I didn’t see him miss a block in the running game. Assuming he eliminates his man and considering Rice’s ability to make the first tackler or two whiff, the Ravens will have a chance to break a big one every play as long as the offensive line doesn’t get pushed around (run blocking is their strong suit, and they got it done on 3rd and short Friday).
If the Ravens are serious about playing smashmouth football, count on Rice going deep more often in 2011.