For weeks the Ravens had been waiting for a breakthrough in the running game, something that would not only balance their offense and get their three-time Pro Bowl running back going, but also silence the critics who took aim at Ray Rice, his offensive line and the zone-blocking schemes they have relied on. The Ravens entered Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears averaging 2.8 yards per carry, which was ranked last in the NFL. They had only rushed for more than 100 yards in one game, which was six weeks ago in a win over the Miami Dolphins. And Rice's longest run of the season had gone for just 14 yards. But on their first running play of their 23-20 overtime loss to the Bears, the Ravens finally got in sync and opened up a wide running lane for Rice, and it was fitting they did it on the type of zone-blocked stretch run that has been in the playbook for years but has come under scrutiny this season due to poor execution. "We've been an inside and outside zone team since we got here," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said two weeks ago. "When you run this offense, the zone plays are the base plays that you run. And most every team in the league that's running this offense is running those same plays, and we've just got to get good enough to run them well. We've got the guys who can do it." On the second play of the game, the Ravens trotted out their preferred personnel package with wide receiver Jacoby Jones alone on the left sideline and fellow wide-outs Tandon Doss and Torrey Smith on the right side of the field. Tight end Ed Dickson had his hand in the dirt next to left tackle Eugene Monroe. And Rice was lined up directly behind quarterback Joe Flacco, who was in the pistol formation.
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The play called was a stretch run to the left and the Ravens did a good job of firing off the line of scrimmage in unison and quickly establishing blocks on the Bears, who were in their nickel personnel. Dickson and Monroe double-teamed Bears right defensive end Julius Peppers and steered him off the sidelines. Once he was taken care of, Dickson slipped off Peppers to the second level and walled off outside linebacker James Anderson. Jones got his block on cornerback Zach Bowman on the left sideline. Meanwhile, left guard A.Q. Shipley was able to go directly to the second level, where he blocked middle linebacker Jon Bostic about 5 yards down the field. Center Gino Gradkowski, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher were able to execute successful reach blocks, getting a step on their assigned defenders and turning to seal them off and open up a running lane for Rice off left guard. "One of the things we did a better job of was with our combination blocks," Harbaugh said Monday. "We did a better job of [identifying] which linebacker we were working to. The angles through the double team up to the linebacker were better. We got on those guys a little better. I thought we got them running. We stopped penetration a little bit better up front. We had fewer situations where we had to navigate a defensive lineman in the backfield. Those are probably the main things."
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Each week, reporter and blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players and coaches, from that week's game. Today, he breaks down Ravens running back Ray Rice's 47-yard run on his first carry of Sunday's 23-20 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears.