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Ravens make changes but still waiting for results with the running game

The Ravens were unable to significantly revitalize their dormant running game Sunday despite making adjustments to their blocking schemes and running back Ray Rice appearing healthier and more explosive.

The Ravens had vowed to tweak their blocking approach, going back to a more basic, aggressive plan of attack.

Days prior to the Ravens' 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, Rice declared the running game would be upgraded.

Although there were incremental signs of progress, the results weren't markedly different as the Ravens rushed for just 82 yards on 26 carries with an average of 3.2 yards per run.

Rice rushed for 45 yards on 15 carries, but still struck an upbeat stance about the state of the offense afterward in the locker room.

"We got better, that's all that matters," Rice said. "The tempo was good. We probably could have made a few more plays, but we got better on offense. We would have loved to have won the game. Lets not kid ourselves. It's the Pittsburgh Steelers, they've always been a good tough defense."

Unlike other games where Rice appeared to have trouble moving optimally, he seemed much more mobile and decisive in the open field and even broke through a few tackles and eluded defenders at times.

It's still below the former gold standard for a three-time Pro Bowl running back who has rushed for just 242 yards through seven games with one game missed due to a strained left hip flexor.

Rice insisted that the injury no longer bothers him.

"Absolutely, I told you this week I had my burst back," Rice said. "Everything I needed to get back was there. I wouldn't kid you if I said I was feeling good. I got my step back. That's exciting for me for the second half of the year. I get a bye week and my legs are feeling a lot better. I'm looking forward to doing some damage."

A team source confirmed before Sunday's game that several players met with coach John Harbaugh after the loss to the Green Bay Packers to address concerns with the running game and hopes to return to last season's blocking schemes.

Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe acknowledged that an old-school approach didn't yield much different results.

The Ravens tried to simplify what they were doing with more of a simplistic blocking strategy utilized last season during a Super Bowl run.

It didn't immediately provide the changes the Ravens are seeking, though.

"Whenever you don't have success, you go back to the drawing board and look for answers," Monroe said. "That's what we did. It's a never-ending cycle. It may have felt a little better, but it's not enough. We'll get it right."

Rice's longest run was just 13 yards.

Without 14 rushing yards on two carries from quarterback Joe Flacco, including a 12-yard scramble, the Ravens would have rushed for only 68 yards overall as a team.

"We got back to the basics," said fullback Vonta Leach, who was rarely utilized as the Ravens didn't use many I-formation sets. "We spread them out a little bit and got some holes going. We need to do even more of that to get things going."

Offensive guard Kelechi Osemele said the Ravens didn't change their style dramatically, but did run more inside zone plays than usual.

However, the Ravens rarely blocked inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. He finished with a game-high 17 tackles, roaming sideline to sideline in pursuit to shut down running plays and short passes.

"This is a tough one to swallow," center Gino Gradkowski said. "It's a big rivalry game. We got to get better and fix what we need to fix. We changed things up a little bit, but, for the most part, it's the same stuff we've been running. It's the same offense, but we tried to speed up the tempo a little bit. I think that helped us."

The Ravens entered Sunday ranked 27th in rushing offense, averaging only 72.7 rushing yards per game.

Rice had an ice pack attached to his shoulder after the game, but emphasized he wasn't nursing a new injury.

"It's the Steelers, it's always a hard-hitting game," said Rice, who caught four passes for 27 yards. "You can see I lowered my pads. It's nothing wrong with my shoulder. That's what happens when you play running back in the NFL.

"My first half of the season, I played through an injury. That's something for me to get my footing back the way I was able to do that against a hard-nosed defense. I felt really good. I want to be able to sustain drives, keep myself ready and continue to get better and get healthy."

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.

awilson@baltsun.com

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