Replacing Ray Rice isn't the answer to the Ravens' offensive woes

"Both of those guys are going to get a large number of carries, and I think whichever guy is playing better should get more carries as we go forward," said John Harbaugh. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The answer appears to be simple, but there are no quick fix solutions. There is no magic wand or fantastic scheme.

If you think replacing starting running back Ray Rice with Bernard Pierce is going to create a new, strong running game, then that's a big mistake.

It's easy to point fingers at Rice, or quarterback Joe Flacco when it comes to a struggling passing game, but this offense won't get better until next year when the Ravens get linemen healthy and bring in some new ones via free agency or the draft.

Until then, the Ravens have to build on what they started Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. They have to be creative and resourceful. If they were looking for an identity, just call it the smorgasbord offense.S

It has to be a mixture of gadget and trick plays. The Ravens have to run when they are supposed to pass and pass when they are supposed to run. With this offensive line, the Ravens can't just line up and out muscle or out perform the opposition.

"Yes, you have to do that," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of loosening up the offense. "It's not that we don't have those plays in for the most part. They're all plays we've practiced before and have been in some games. You have to cause problems for a defense and those plays got some yard for us, so it was good."

Replacing, Rice, though, appears to be the hot topic after the Bengals win. Rice had only 30 yards on 18 carries and he continued to look like a running back who no longer has explosiveness, particularly on that short pass from Flacco in overtime.

Instead of gaining 13 yards, the old Rice would have broken cornerback Terence Newman's ankles and gained 40 yards. The old Rice might have finished with 50 or 60 yards rushing Sunday.

Instead, Rice just looked old, or like a runner still suffering from a hip injury.

Almost two weeks ago heading into the bye week, Rice said he was close to being completely healthy and would be at full tilt once he came back to face the Cleveland Browns. Since then, he has gained only 47 yards on 29 carries.

It's been ugly, real ugly.

Maybe it would be time for replacing him if Pierce was putting together consecutive 100-yard games, but he has only 42 yards on 14 carries in two games.

Ho-hum. Big deal.

Here's a better solution: Rice should continue to start, but Pierce gets more carries Sunday against the Chicago Bears. If he continues to outplay Rice, then he gradually becomes the starter. It's fair to both players.

The Ravens have been through this before and every time Pierce gets more than eight carries in a game, he seems to get hurt and then disappears from the lineup.

With this offensive line the Ravens need three running backs, preferably the likes of Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Walter Payton.

Opposing defensive linemen are getting too much penetration sometimes getting to Rice and Pierce before they can make a cut. Right now, the Ravens aren't even getting push from combination blocks up front.

That's why replacing Rice with Pierce won't have a significant impact except maybe in pass protection. They need to concentrate on other things because they can't continue to win games like they did Sunday gaining only 189 yards of total offense and converting three of 16 third down opportunities.

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell came up with some new gimmicks like putting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on the short yardage offense and putting offensive tackle Rick Wagner in motion so teams couldn't overload one side.

I liked the hitch or short screen pass to receiver Torrey Smith and the Ravens putting him in the slot to get mismatches on a third cornerback or safety. Instead of a reverse to No. 2 quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Ravens should feature him in other packages like the Wildcat even though they don't need to go overboard because there are only two quarterbacks on the roster.

The Ravens need to bring back the unbalanced line and allow Flacco to roll out more to escape pressure. He appears comfortable going and throwing to his right.

The Ravens just can't sit and be a Pro I-formation team anymore. They can't just run out of the shot gun or throw out of the pistol formation. This offense has to feature a little this or a little that, maybe some Rice in the slot with Pierce in the backfield at the same time.

They just can't do it the old way anymore. They don't have the muscle up front which is why replacing Rice with Pierce won't make that big of a difference.

Not yet anyway.

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