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1. Will this be the week the Ravens jump-start their dormant running game?
There's a feeling of optimism among Ravens players and coaches that this could finally be the week that one of the NFL's worst running games breaks through.
If the Ravens cannot exploit the Bears' beleaguered run defense, there's little reason to think they'll ever fix their rush-attack woes this season.
A depleted Bears defense missing defensive tackle and franchise player Henry Melton, linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams and cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman because of injuries ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing defense, surrendering 129.4 yards per game.
The Bears have given up 1,165 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns so far on an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Chicago has allowed a 100-yard rusher in two consecutive games and in three of the past four games.
However, the Ravens rank 30th in the NFL in rushing offense (73.1 rushing yards per game) and last in yards per carry (2.8). Three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is rushing for just 2.5 yards per carry, the lowest average among qualified NFL running backs.
"We've been working really hard at improving in that area," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. "It's important for us to be a lot better than we have been. No time like the present."
The Ravens appeared to have some success last week in a 20-17 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals with backup Bernard Pierce, who used a downhill approach to average 3.9 yards per carry, with 31 yards on eight carries.
The Ravens may need more of that kind of style with potentially sloppy field conditions at Soldier Field due to rainy weather.
Injuries have affected both Rice and Pierce this season, but Rice insisted this week that he's at full strength after a strained left hip flexor earlier this season seemingly robbed him of his explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability.
"We're getting back healthy, but we don't want to use that as an excuse," Rice said. "If we're out there on Sundays, we're 100 percent. That's just how the NFL goes. You get judged by your performance. We have to play better. We have to help our offensive line play better, and we'll continue to do that."
December 20, 2009