Ravens running back Ray Rice had 12 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown in the first three quarters of the 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he did not touch the ball on their offensive eight plays in the fourth.
In the past, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been criticized for not using Rice enough -- my colleague Mike Preston did it again after Sunday’s loss -- so he had an answer ready for reporters on Thursday.
“That’s our own fault,” he said, interrupting a reporter midway through a question about Rice’s workload. “It’s our job on offense to convert on third down. If we convert on third down, we are out there for, hopefully, another three downs. When you don’t convert on third down, you aren’t going to be out there. Our guys know we need to do a better job of converting on third down. Then you get more opportunities.”
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Cameron then argued that the lack of opportunities is the main reason why Rice, who has carried the ball 198 times in 12 games this season, is on pace for 264 carries, which would be his lowest total since 2009.
“Percentage-wise, Ray has had the ball more this year than other years,” Cameron said. “But we haven’t had as many opportunities. And right now, that’s our own undoing. That’s something that we have to get fixed right here in December, and I’m confident that we will.”
We crunched the numbers, and the Ravens are on pace to run 1,010 plays this season, which is not significantly lower than recent seasons. They ran 1,036 plays in 2011, 1,018 plays in 2010, and 1,014 plays in 2009.
Here is a quick breakdown of those numbers:
2009 season (actual)
Ravens offensive plays: 1,014
Rice carries/catches/touches: 254/78/332
Percentages of plays he touched the ball: 32.7%
2010 season (actual)
Ravens offensive plays: 1,018
Rice carries/catches/touches: 307/63/370
Percentages of plays he touched the ball: 36.3%
2011 season (actual)
Ravens offensive plays: 1,036
Rice carries/catches/touches: 291/76/367
Percentages of plays he touched the ball: 35.4%
2012 season (prorated)
Ravens offensive plays: 1,010
Rice carries/catches/touches: 264/65/329
Percentages of plays he touched the ball: 32.6%
Technically, Cameron’s statement wasn’t accurate, but Rice’s usage percentage is in the same neighborhood.
Asked about Sunday’s game, Rice said Wednesday that he wanted to get “smart” carries, acknowledging that opponents often center their gameplans on stopping him. A day later, Cameron praised Rice for being a “team guy” and not demanding the ball if opponents are putting nine guys in the box to smother the run.
“If there are nine or 10 guys in there, there isn’t a running back in this league that wants the ball, and he knows when he’s being doubled- and triple-covered in the passing game,” Cameron said. “The key for us is making sure when we don’t give the ball to him we are executing with other guys. … The key is getting more snaps. How do you get more snaps? Convert more on third down. Then not only are we going to continue to win, but then it’s going to look the way and feel the way that everybody wants it to look and feel.”