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Ray Rice says struggles haven't dented his confidence

Ravens running back Ray Rice has struggled mightily this season, frequently unable to gain more than a few yards at a time.

Named to the Pro Bowl the past three seasons, Rice has rushed for just 259 yards on 97 carries this season and is on pace to finish with 519 yards. Averaging 2.7 yards per run, Rice is the second-lowest ranked running back in average per carry in the NFL.

"Everybody has these situations," said Rice, who apologized for not doing interviews following the Ravens' 24-18 loss Sunday to the Cleveland Browns. "A down year isn't going to make or break me as a person. I've been through a lot worse than averaging what I'm averaging in carries. I've got broad shoulders. As long as you're not jumping on my front lawn, you're all right."

In his previous four seasons, Rice had rushed for 1,143, 1,364, 1,220 and 1,339 yards.

Despite his downward spiral, Rice said the negative situation hasn't dented his confidence.

He rushed for just 17 yards on 11 carries against the Browns, averaging 1.5 yards per run.

"My level of confidence is where it was in Week One," Rice said. "I still believe we'll get the run game going. We have the guys. It's never going to be an effort thing. We've just seen some pretty good fronts, and I've battled through stuff this year.

"I don't have to hesitate to do anything. I just want to go out there and let it fly. The next eight games, I'm just trying to go out there and be the best Ray Rice I can be for the next half of the season."

Rice insisted that his health is fine now after dealing with a strained left hip flexor earlier this season. The injury appears to have affected his explosivness and tackle-breaking ability, and Rice has been much less elusive in the open field this season.

“I’ve been working on my health, my health is there,” Rice said. “And now it’s time to keep pushing for these next eight games, and win the ones that we have at home.”

The Ravens have plummeted to 29th in rushing offense, averaging 71.6 yards per game. With 573 rushing yards and a 2.8 average per carry, the Ravens are on pace to finish the season with 1,146 yards.

Backup running back Bernard Pierce is averaging 2.7 yards per carry and has rushed for only 230 yards on 85 carries. Pierce has battled hamstring, calf and knee issues since the preseason.

The offensive line has had health problems with left guard Kelechi Osemele planning to have season-ending back surgery. And Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda had offseason rotator cuff surgery.

"This is the first time in my entire life being in a situation like this," Rice said. "There’s a first time for everything. I know where I stand on this team. I know I’m a leader."

The Ravens clearly miss six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk as replacement Gino Gradkowski is dealing with a learning curve. The Ravens hired run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, the former Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach whom former Baltimore offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins, blamed for the downgraded running game.

"We’re going to earn our confidence by doing well," Harbaugh said. "I think fundamentally, we have a confident group. There’s no question that all of us are confident. We know we can get it done and we know we can get there.

"Until you start doing it with some consistency, it’s hard to be confident in what you’re doing. So, sure, we have to get that done. It’s the cart before the horse. We have confidence, but as we start doing things, it will build on that confidence."

Heading into Sunday's pivotal game against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, the Bengals are ranked 10th against the run and are allowing 103.9 rushing yards per game.

They've been depleted by knee injuries to All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was placed on injured reserve this week, and linebacker Rey Maualuga.

The 3-5 Ravens' primary issues lie within themselves, not their opponents necessarily.

"It's not a difference scheme, it's not a different offense," Rice said. "We're running an offense that fits our personnel right now. We've done it before. We've just got to continue to keep working."

awilson@baltsun.com

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