Ray Rice likened the Ravens’ home game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night to the first day of school. And like an eager student, the running back is looking forward to the regular-season opener after getting just 10 carries in the preseason.
“Ten carries in the preseason didn’t [account] for the many reps I had in practice. I got the reps I needed,” Rice said Thursday. “We played the game in practice. If you’ve been to our training-camp practices, they were pretty intense, and we played the game in practice. So yes, I am eager to get out there and play four quarters though because you’re not just playing in a practice situation anymore. You’re playing for the game and you’re playing in a real game.”
The two-time Pro Bowler enjoyed a career year in 2011, achieving career bests in rushing yards (1,364), rushing touchdowns (12), receiving yards (704) and receiving touchdowns (3). Rice, the organization’s second-round pick in 2008, was rewarded with a five-year, $40 million extension that he signed in July.
Rice will continue to be a marked target by opposing defenses, but with the offense employing a no-huddle approach that takes advantage of quarterback Joe Flacco’s on-the-fly command, could Rice find himself moving away from being a top priority?
That sentiment didn’t worry Rice.
“I always felt that as a running back, you evolve with the changes,” he said. “Being that I’ve caught the ball really well, I think I fit well with this offense. Whatever it is – whether it’s running the ball or passing [because] a catch to me is a long handoff – eventually you’ve got to make a play with that. Whether it’s 15 rushes or 10 catches, I just think that as long as I’m fitting in the game plan a certain way, I’ll be fine.”
Added Flacco: “Running backs in the preseason, you’ve got to make sure they get a couple touches here and there, but are really fresh coming into the season opener because those guys take a lot of wear-and-tear on their bodies as the season goes on. So it’s nice to have him ready to go and hopefully we can keep him healthy for a full 16 and make it to the playoffs.”
Rice has been especially lethal against Monday night’s opponent. Since 2009 when he became the featured tailback, Rice has scored a touchdown in five of six meetings, is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and broke the 100-yard barrier in last season’s sweep of the Bengals.
Rice downplayed his success against Cincinnati, saying, “You don’t just run at a group like that. You scheme up runs and try to find out how they’re fitting to play. You’ve seen that they play the run really well, but the big runs we had, there was usually one guy out of place or a missed tackle or maybe something that was schemed up. Against a great defense like that, you pick and choose when you run the ball. You can’t just say, ‘Every play, we’re going to pound at them.’ That’s not smart. But I think we have a great plan to where we will run the ball, and it’ll start with just executing what we have in hand.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis pointed out that Rice had runs of 70, 59 and 51 yards in those two games last year and said his defense must do a better job of filling the running lanes.
“You have to get in your gaps, stay on your feet and make the tackle,” he told Cincinnati media Wednesday. “That’s how you prevent any run from going the distance. The other 35 runs he had were three [yards] or less, but you can’t give up those explosive plays like that. That makes for a long day. You’re going to have a difficult time overcoming that kind of explosive play. We made quite a few explosive plays in the passing game in the two games, but we put ourselves behind the eight-ball with what they did offensively and the fact that we turned the ball over four times.”