Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice consistently ranks as one of the most productive and dynamic running backs in the NFL, capable of eluding defenders on the ground and through the air.
He benefits from running behind bruising All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, who's regarded as the most devastating lead blocker in the game.
Yet, the Ravens have fallen to 19th overall in the NFL in rushing yards per game with an average of 104 yards per contest. And Rice ranks 12th on the rushing chart individually with 524 rushing yards.
It's not a matter of his effectiveness or the Ravens' blocking, though. It speaks to lack of use relative to the other top backs in the league.
The Ravens rank fifth in rushing yards per carry, averaging 4.7 yards overall as Rice is averaging 4.9 yards per rush with a long run of 43 yards on 106 attempts. Rice is also tied for first in the league as a 3rd-and-1 runner, converting all five of his attempts in those situations.
And rookie backup Bernard Pierce, who didn't have a carry during a 43-13 blowout loss to the Houston Texans, is averaging 5.3 yards per carry with 23 rushes for 122 yards.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated Monday that it's evident that the running game is a plus for the defending AFC North champions, but cautioned against simply dialing up a higher amount of runs to spark the offense.
"That's a positive for us," he said. "That's something that's important. It all goes down to what direction you go and how hard you go and how far you go in a certain direction, because if you go too heavy in a certain direction, then it gets defended, then it doesn't look as good anymore."
However, most of the NFL rushing leaders ahead of Rice have significantly more carries.
That includes the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson (151 runs, 775 yards, 5.1 per carry, four touchdowns), the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (159 carries, 757 yards, 4.8 per carry, three touchdowns), the Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris (151 carries, 717 yards, 4.7 per carry, five touchdowns), the New England Patriots' Stevan Ridley (150 carries, 716 yards, 4.8 per carry, five touchdowns), the Houston Texans' Arian Foster (168 carries, 659 yards, 3.9 per carry, nine touchdowns), the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (120 carries, 595 yards, 5.0 per carry, two touchdowns), the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson (131 carries, 595 yards, 4.5 per carry, two touchdowns), the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw (126 carries, 570 yards, 4.5 per carry, four touchdowns), the Denver Broncos' Willis McGahee (123 carries, 554 yards, 4.5 per carry, four touchdowns) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Doug Martin (129 carries, 543 yards, 4.2 per carry, three touchdowns.).
The Ravens have had a lot of success when Leach is in the game running physical isolation plays out of the I-formation. He had only 14 plays against the Texans, six runs as Rice finished with 42 yards on nine carries after gaining 27 yards on his first three runs during the Ravens' opening drive.
However, Rice has performed well in virtually any capacity, catching 29 passes for 245 yards, and running draws out of the shotgun formation when the Ravens were expected to pass.
"A lot of the running averages you are talking about are a result of what we call 'sub runs,'" Harbaugh said. "We've run the ball quite a bit in three-wide receiver sets. We've run the ball decently as changeups to our passing game, and those runs have been really productive too. The run game is not consistently attributable to the I-formation or the two-back stuff, although that has been good, too. We have to find a goodmix of that stuff, keep people off balanced, try to be as unpredictable as we can.
"We studied that. We're really unpredictable in a lot of ways, but there are specific places where you look at and we tend to do one thing or the other a little more within our running game. But generally speaking, we have had success running the ball; we feel like running the ball ties in with time of possession. That is something that we want to be able to do. We have always been able to do that. It's got to be part of our personality, and it's important for us."