After acknowledging that a hip flexor injury affected his play early in the season, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice recently insisted that he's finally back to 100 percent and has not lost a step.
His head coach has a different tale to tell.
John Harbaugh said Monday there's "no doubt" Rice's health has been a factor while averaging a paltry 2.51 yards per carry this season. "You've got to assume (the hip) has had an impact," Harbaugh added.
As we pointed out on the "Around The League Podcast," Rice has lost the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. His longest run of the season is 14 yards, a number which he exceeded in more than half of last year's games. He's averaging 1.62 yards per on 29 carries since declaring himself healthy coming out of the Week 8 bye.
Although he's not prepared to install Bernard Pierce as the starter, Harbaugh did suggest the backfield roles will change if a hot hand develops.
Pierce did outplay Rice on eight carries Sunday versus the Bengals, but the ground-game problems lie deeper. Rice and Willis McGahee are the only backs with a lower yards-per-carry average than Pierce's 2.81, which illustrates the futility of an offensive line that has struggled to adapt to Juan Castillo's maligned zone-blocking scheme.
Rice isn't showing the same lateral explosion, the offensive line isn't opening holes and opposing defenses are pinning their ears back without a passing attack to keep them honest. Until those factors change, the Ravens will likely remain on track to finish with the lowest rushing average since the 1953 New York Giants.