There have been a lot of excuses or reasons for quarterback Joe Flacco's drop off in performance during the last couple of seasons.

He had knee surgery and a back injury. The Ravens didn't supply him with enough talented receivers. He is inaccurate, has poor mechanics and lost one of the best offensive coaches in recent league history in Gary Kubiak.

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Since we're into explanations, how about this one? The Ravens need to find Flacco a Ray Rice clone. Flacco hasn't been as consistent since Rice started slowing down in 2013 and was cut a year later after a domestic violence case.

It's plain and simple: Flacco needs a security blanket.

It's true the Ravens haven't supplied Flacco with enough talented receivers, including tight ends, the last couple of years. Except for Steve Smith, the Ravens have brought in a bunch of marginal free agents and failing draft picks.

But the Ravens should know by now that Flacco is pretty much a one-read quarterback and then he becomes "Check Down Joe." Unfortunately, there has been no running back for him to throw to out of the backfield recently.

So, when the annual NFL draft begins in a couple of weeks the Ravens might take a wide receiver or a tight end with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round. But somewhere between rounds two and four they need to find a running back who is a threat in the passing game.

It could be someone like San Diego State's Rashaad Penny, N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels or Miami's Mark Walton. Published reports indicate that Penny doesn't pick up offensive schemes quickly and N.C. State also had another option as a third-down back in Nyheim Hines, who runs a 4.38 forty.

But Samuels is the most intriguing. He has played H-back, wide receiver, tight end and fullback. He had 76 catches for 597 yards and four touchdowns last season. In this age of the salary cap, versatility is of high value.

Regardless, the Ravens have to find a running back Flacco is comfortable with on passing situations, a runner they can use in any given situation. When Flacco threw for 3,817 yards during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season, Rice led the team in rushing with 1,143 yards and was tied for second in receptions with 61 for 478 yards.

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A year later, Flacco threw for 3,912 yards and Rice again was second on the team in receptions. There was a near constant parallel between Rice and Flacco throughout their times as Ravens. Their success was dependent upon each other and the Ravens haven't been able to duplicate it.

They've tried, but it hasn't worked. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was the Ravens' top receiving running back in 2016 with 37 catches for 266 yards, but he was not a breakaway threat. The only thing more boring, laughable and predictable was the 2017 offense that included Danny Woodhead.

The Ravens have several running backs who will compete for playing time next season but they don't have Rice's overall, complete game. Starter Alex Collins is a breakaway threat as a runner.The Ravens tried to work more into the passing game in the second half of last season, but he doesn't run routes like Rice. His primary job should consist of no more than 20 carries a game if the offense is balanced.

Backup running back Buck Allen had 46 catches for 250 yards in 2017, but neither he nor Kenneth Dixon have the soft hands of Rice or the ability to make tacklers miss. There is no way either could have turned that short, check-down pass on fourth-and-29 into a first down in the closing minutes against San Diego on Nov. 25th, 2012.

It's hard to find that type of player but the Ravens need a running back who can give Flacco a comfort level. Flacco has never been the type of quarterback who can carry a team, but he is successful when surrounded by a good defense and one or two offensive weapons.

One of those needs to a running back who serves as his security blanket. For years, it was Ray Rice.

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mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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