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Monday, September 23, 2013
John Harbaugh still confident in run game

By Jamison Hensley

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't sure whether running back Ray Rice will return to play Sunday. What Harbaugh does know is he's going to get more production out of his plodding running game.

Winners of two straight, the Ravens (2-1) are sitting atop the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals and are coming off a convincing 30-9 win over the Houston Texans. But the biggest improvement Harbaugh wants to see out of his team is opening running lanes and breaking long runs.

The Ravens are averaging 77.3 yards rushing, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Baltimore is gaining 2.6 yards per carry, and only the Jacksonville Jaguars (2.4) are averaging fewer.

Bernard Pierce
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he's confident that his running backs, including Bernard Pierce, will be more productive as the season progresses.
"Our run game is not where it needs to be," Harbaugh said. "I think one thing you've seen is that philosophically we're going to stick with it. It's something that we think is important. We're going to be able to run the ball here. It's just part of our DNA. It's part of who we are as a football team."

The Ravens return four starters from an offensive line that helped the team average 134.8 yards rushing in the playoffs. Through three weeks this year, the Ravens are averaging 44 percent less.

Without Rice on Sunday, Bernard Pierce and Shaun Draughn were held to no gain or were stopped behind the line nine times on 27 carries. Like Harbaugh said, it's not for a lack of trying. Their 88 rushing attempts rank 10th in the NFL.

"We have the people to do it," Harbaugh said. "We have some big, strong, tough offensive linemen. We have some really good backs. And we have a fullback who is the best blocking fullback in the league. So, the run game is something that has to happen for us."

Based on the numbers, the Ravens will have their best chance of getting the run game on track this Sunday. The Buffalo Bills have allowed 155 yards rushing per game, which is second worst in the league. The New York Jets' Bilal Powell, a fourth-round pick in 2011, ran for 149 yards against the Bills on Sunday.

Harbaugh said the Ravens' problem is more complicated than just knocking defensive linemen off the ball. He characterized the issue as getting everyone working more in sync.

"We do feel like we understand it and we're working on it," Harbaugh said. "There's no doubt in our mind that it can be corrected. We're not getting the production from the run game that we think we should. But we also feel like we're on our way to getting that done. We just have to go out there and do it."

Injuries have hit the Ravens' backfield. Rice missed his first game since 2008 with a hip injury, and Draughn has a high ankle sprain. Harbaugh said the team is in a "wait and see" mode as to whether Baltimore needs to add another running back this week, but it seemed like the Ravens were leaning against that.

Asked if there is a good chance that Rice will play Sunday, Harbaugh said, "I don't know about the good or the great or the whatever. He was close this week, to a degree. So was Chris [Canty, defensive lineman]. Those muscle things, you never know for sure. They were in the ballpark this week. We think that really puts them in the ballpark coming up."