Ray Rice remains the one constant with the Ravens' offense

Ray Rice

Ravens running back Ray Rice gains 37 yards on a run in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs. (DAVID EULITT, MCT / October 7, 2012)

Regardless of what has been displayed on the field by the Ravens during the first five games, this is still running back Ray Rice's offense.

You can talk about Joe Flacco's improvement and quarterback ratings or the Ravens' impressive statistics, but there has only been one constant until now.

It is Ray Rice.

He is still the team's top offensive player not only because of his greatness, but also because he is the equalizer. He always brings his A-game which makes everyone on the offense better.

Flacco still lacks some consistency, so he doesn't always bring his best game. The offensive line and receivers have only about three A-games per season.

Rice is always there.

He was the team's top offensive performer a couple of weeks ago in the Ravens only loss of the season to Philadelphia, and he carried the offense Sunday in the Ravens' pathetic, 9-6, win against Kansas City.

Against the Chiefs, Rice rushed 17 times for 102 yards including a long run of 37 yards, and he sealed the victory with three straight rushes for 10 yards and a first down at the end of the game which allowed the Ravens to run out the remaining time.

"That was really huge," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's another big one. Ray ran those three plays. It was basically the same play. A different twist on the play, but the same play. Ray did a great job of staying behind his linemen, staying behind his fullback or lead tight end. He ran really hard and really well."

Rice said: "I think it gave us a new identity. When you're able to run the ball to end the game, it says something. I want to thank the offensive line and [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] for trusting us to get it done. We always knew we had it in our back pocket, but to get it done in a clutch situation really felt good."

Most of us got caught up in the euphoria surrounding Flacco's strong preseason and first couple of games. He was throwing better with more vision and accuracy, and seemed to have a strong command of the no huddle offense.

But after five games, it's enough. The Ravens can stick with the no-huddle and they can have Flacco chucking the ball all over stadiums early in the season as long as Rice gets a fair share of touches and stays healthy. But in big games and at key moments Rice has to be the centerpiece.

It's clear that Cameron wants to make Flacco an elite quarterback, and it certainly puts another notch is his resume along with the development of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.

But if you want to build your offense around your quarterback, then you better have an offensive line to protect him, and the Ravens fall short in that area. When Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were at the peak of their careers, defenses never got to them consistently.

That doesn't happen here with Flacco. Offensive tackles Kelechi Osemele and Michael Oher struggle with speed rushers, so either Flacco is getting knocked around or the Ravens have to use skill players to stay in to help pass block. There are times when the Ravens are sending out only two receivers in patterns.

That rarely happens with Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback in Green Bay.

Whenever teams have cornerbacks who can press the Ravens receivers at the line of scrimmage, the Ravens struggle because they aren't strong to push off. The Ravens also don't have the plays or the time to run them against man coverage.

Combined with the inconsistency of Flacco who still stares down receivers, the Ravens passing game has limitations.

There are some who will suggest that it is only five games into the season, and there is a lot of time remaining for the offense and the passing game to develop. But we've seen this act before.

There is no Jonathan Ogden or Jerry Rice out there to sign for this season, but there is another Rice, as in Ray.

When the Ravens offensive line decided to take days off against Philadelphia and Kansas City, it was Rice who came up big even though the Ravens under used him against the Eagles. Often, he makes a lot out of nothing.

When Flacco is usually hot, it is off play action fakes to Rice which puts all the defensive players in a one second holding pattern.

There's one other thing. As the defense continues to give up big yardage every week, it might be more of an advantage for the Ravens to give them a rest by resorting to a running game instead of slinging it 56 times a game.

The assumption here is that the Ravens will stay pass happy, and I can live with that as long as the wins continue early in the season.

But my concern is that in crunch time the Ravens will rely more on passing instead of going with the top weapon on the team. It will be up to Harbaugh to pull the plug.

There can be balance as far as the run versus pass ratio, but the most consistent performer and the biggest plays still comes from the smallest guy on offense.

This is still Ray Rice's offense.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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