The Ravens' recommitment to the running game during Sunday's 26-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins wasn't reflected in their 3.3 yards-per-carry average, the simplest way to measure rushing efficiency.
But other numbers tell the story, starting with the 38 carries for Ravens running backs, a week after they got just nine in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. There were the nine plays, including two in the goal-line package, when the Ravens lined up rookie Rick Wagner as a sixth offensive lineman and 19 other plays when they used two tight ends. And there were the two second-half rushing touchdowns for Ray Rice.
The Ravens still have plenty of work left to do to get their running game to where it needs to be, but a week after giving up on it altogether, they relied on it to escape from Miami with an important win.
In the first half, it was the same old struggles for Rice and the Ravens. There were few cracks for running backs to wiggle through against a stout Dolphins defense and making matters worse was the injury to left guard Kelechi Osemele, who had to be replaced with A.Q. Shipley. The Ravens had just 33 yards on 15 first-half carries and trailed the Dolphins by seven points at halftime.
This week, though, there was no locker room decision to scrap the running game, perhaps because it wasn't an option for them with just three healthy wide receivers active. Their patience paid off in the second half.
The Ravens handed the ball to Rice twice to open the second half. Joe Flacco wasn't supposed to run on third down, but his 14-yard scramble kick-started a drive that ended with Rice plunging into the end zone from 2 yards out.
Rice and Pierce were prominently featured in their next two drives, which resulted in a 25-yard field goal for Justin Tucker and a 3-yard touchdown run by Rice.
Assisted by a fluky Flacco pick-six, the Dolphins would quickly erase that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens continued to pound the Dolphins with the running game as they moved into position to set up Tucker's game-winning field goal. Five of the six plays on that drive were runs, though they did fail to convert on an outside run by Pierce on third-and-2.
In the second half, the Ravens rushed for 100 yards on 25 carries, including those two touchdowns and a 28-yard run by Pierce that was the team's longest run of the season.
The circumstances were obviously different than they were in the second half a week ago, but it was a drastic change from Flacco throwing 31 straight passes last Sunday.
Rice would rush for 74 yards on 27 carries, the most for him in a non-overtime game since Dec. 4, 2011. Pierce ran for 46 yards on 11 carries. As a team, the Ravens totaled 133 rushing yards on 40 carries. That 3.3 yards-per-carry average was still well below the league average, but that wasn't the story in Sunday's win.
The Ravens finally showed signs of life in the running game, and while they still have issues on their offensive line, it gives hope that they are headed in the right direction.
One thing that I learned
Rice has a fumbling problem. When Rice fumbled twice in the wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts, he insisted that he wasn't a fumbler. He lost another fumble in the Super Bowl, but that was obviously a minor footnote in a Ravens victory. He then lost a fumble in Week 2 and followed it up with another in the first half Sunday. Rice was not known as a fumbler before January, but now that he has lost five in his past eight games, I don't think it's unfair to suggest he has a problem. The fumbles have usually occurred when he reached the second level and tried to make a play in the open field. But whatever the cause, it needs to be corrected before it finally costs the Ravens a game.
Handing out game balls
Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs continues to be a game-wrecker for the Ravens, whether he is rushing from the left or the right. He had three sacks Sunday, including two in a span of three plays in the fourth quarter. He now has seven on the season. Beast. My offensive game ball goes to Torrey Smith, who had six catches for 121 yards and drew a key pass interference penalty in the end zone on another play.
This week's head-scratcher
The Ravens led by a touchdown in the fourth quarter and faced 3rd and 22 from their 9-yard line. Instead of playing it safe with a hand-off or a quick pass, Flacco dropped back into the end zone to throw for the first down. Dolphins rookie Dion Jordan beat interim left tackle Bryant McKinnie and hit Flacco's arm as he threw, changing the trajectory of the pass. Dolphins safety Reshad Jones picked it off and returned it for a touchdown, tying the game. I'm all for being aggressive, but you have to pick your battles, especially when leading on the road. Coach John Harbaugh seemed to agree, saying after the game that it was a mistake he would like to have back.
They said it (or tweeted it)
According to my colleague Jeff Zrebiec, who unlike me took his talents to South Beach this weekend, two Ravens players accidentally flipped off the light switch in the interview room after the game. Suggs was the second to turn out the lights, leading Harbaugh to quip, "That wasn't the commissioner."
The stat that stands out
Six -- sacks for the Ravens defense, including four in the fourth quarter.
Three (thoughts) and out
1. Despite some coverage issues on the back end, the Ravens have become a defense that no offense wants to deal with in third-and-long situations. The Ravens have quite the crew of pass rushers and defensive coordinator Dean Pees tries to get as many as possible on the field in those obvious passing situations. When Courtney Upshaw sacked Ryan Tannehill in the first quarter, he attacked the middle while Suggs and Elvis Dumervil rushed off the edges. Pernell McPhee broke through for a sack in the second quarter. And Suggs and Dumervil took over in the fourth quarter. The Ravens can generate pressure with a four-man rush, but it's more fun watching them blitz.
2. I know he is coming off a major knee injury and I know that he was playing with a sore hamstring, but Lardarius Webb had trouble sticking with Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace. Webb played better in the second half, but Wallace, who spent most of the game lined up across from Webb, finished with seven catches for 105 yards and could have had more if not for a few drops. According to Pro Football Focus, Webb had been beaten for 15 catches for 223 receiving yards entering Sunday. When they update those totals with the numbers from Sunday, I suspect it will be over 300 yards. The season is still fairly young, but the Lardarius Webb of old isn't quite back yet.
3. It was nice to see tight end Ed Dickson deliver with two catches for 51 yards on his two targets. That 43-yard catch and run was the kind of play that we expected to see from Dickson this season. Still, the Ravens aren't getting enough production from their tight ends. Dallas Clark, who got the majority of the 25 snaps in which the Ravens used their 11 personnel, was held without a catch. They even tried to get fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the mix, targeting him on one play in which he lined up in the slot. I'm not sure that Matt Furstenburg, the Maryland product who is on the practice squad, is the answer, but I can't imagine he could be any less productive.