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Rice, Ravens look to pound porous Panthers run defense

The encore to Ray Rice's career season has yet to take center stage.

After finishing second in the NFL with 2,041 yards from scrimmage — including running for 1,339, the third-highest total in franchise history — and compiling four 100-yard rushing contests en route to his first Pro Bowl invitation last season, the Ravens running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once this year and has scored only two rushing touchdowns.

Yet Rice remains positive that his quiet season can change.

"I definitely feel like the big game is coming, where the numbers will be great," he said Thursday. "I'm right where I need to be right now. We're going great as a collective group. I'm just trying to keep plugging away."

That moment could occur Sunday, when the Ravens visit Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., to take on the Carolina Panthers.

That's because the Panthers are surrendering 131.6 rushing yards per game this season, 27th in the league.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron indicated that the running attack could play a significant role Sunday.

"Absolutely," Cameron said as to whether Carolina's run defense would be an inviting target for Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. "When you get to this point in time of the season, everybody pretty much has strengths and weaknesses, and you're continually trying to attack a team's weakness."

Cameron is just as quick to point out that the Panthers' defensive statistics are deceiving.

For instance, only the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte and the San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore have compiled 100 rushing yards against Carolina, which has given up a respectable seven touchdowns on the ground.

One factor in the defense's poor rushing ranking could be the amount of time the unit spends on the field. Opposing offenses have had possession for an average of 32:59, and the Panthers have won the time-of-possession battle just once, in their 23-20 win over the 49ers on Oct. 24.

While noting that the defense has played extended stretches at times, Carolina coach John Fox declined to use that as an excuse.

"I don't think it takes a toll," he said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. "I think it's just sometimes you have those type of situations. We've been there before, so I wouldn't say it's necessarily being on the field so long. It's just that we haven't scored a lot of points, and that's what helps win games and that's two-fold. We can set it up on defense or special teams, and we can score at a better rate offensively."

The Ravens haven't made the same commitment to running the ball they did last season. The offense called for more runs than passes in six regular-season games last year. This season, that has happened just twice.

McGahee said he would love to see the offense tailor its game plan to attacking Carolina on the ground, but he also pointed out that giving the ball to the running backs can set up quarterback Joe Flacco and the receiving corps.

"Hopefully, we can get the ball and just get the run game going and open up the passing game for Joe," McGahee said. "If you can start out running the ball, then they have to load up the box to stop us, and that's when you go over their heads. One-on-one, I'll take our receivers any day."

Cameron endorsed a strategy centered on the running backs, but he noted that tactic is something the offense tries to employ against every opponent.

"You would say you want to attack them with the run, but we want to do that every week," he said. "People may not think that, but a lot of times, we're calling runs and throwing the ball or checking out of runs for passes. So this will be one of those games where we need to run the football, but at the same time, we want to create some balance."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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