Moments after the San Francisco Forty-niners granted Running Back LaMichael James’ request to be released, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of Ray Rice, the troubled mainstay of the Ravens offensive backfield for the past six years.
Following Rice’s departure, Bernard Pierce, who was benched after a case of “butterfingers” in the Ravens’ inaugural game against the Cincinnati Bengals, journeyman Justin Forsett whom the Ravens acquired after he was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro remain as the only Running Backs on the Ravens’ roster. Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Ravens’ other reserve Running Back was also cut to make room for Christo Bilukidi, a Defensive Tackle the Ravens claimed off waivers from Cincinnati, leaving the team with three relatively unproven backfield weapons.
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If the Ravens are really as committed to running the ball as they have stated many times this off-season, they will probably need another Running Back this season. Sporting a career average of less than four yards per carry, Bernard Pierce certainly does not have the credentials or the raw potential to be a “featured” NFL Running Back. At this point, Pierce does not appear to be the Ravens’ long term solution at that position.
Justin Forsett looked very good against the Bengals, rushing for more than six yards per attempt. Forsett’s career rushing average of 4.9 yards every time he “totes the rock” engenders confidence that he can get the job done; however, Forsett has been a nomad in the NFL. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2008, was waived later that year and was claimed by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts cut him in October, 2008 and he re-signed with the Seahawks. After four seasons in Seattle, he signed, as a free agent, with the Houston Texans, moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars and finally landed with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Baltimore must run the ball on at least 40 percent of their snaps or they will watch the playoffs from their sofas again.” — K. F. Jackson
Because of his previous experience in Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, Forsett knows the Ravens new Offense well and is making the most of his opportunities. If Pierce doesn’t step up his production and find a way to hold on to the ball, he just might fumble Forsett into the starting role.
Regardless of whether Pierce holds on to the starting spot or Forsett overtakes him, they are both likely to be “placeholders” for Taliaferro whose skill set is closer to Pierce’s than Forsett’s. However, for the moment, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh in Monday’s press conference, Bernard Pierce is the starter. Harbaugh made it clear that the other Backs would see extensive action.
Pierce must do a lot better than the 2.3 yards per carry and one lost fumble that he posted in the Cincinnati game. Although Pierce is slated to start, the “leash” cannot be very long. The Ravens will be playing their arch nemesis Pittsburgh Steelers this Thursday night and cannot afford another lack luster performance, especially on the ground.
With the loss to division rival Cincinnati, the pressure is now on the Ravens’ to win. A loss to the Steelers will put the Ravens playoff aspirations in serious jeopardy and a substandard rushing attack will certainly increase the possibility of a Steelers’ victory.
The release of LaMichael James by the Forty-niners and the Jim and John Harbaugh connection puts the Ravens in good position to determine if James can help the running game. If so, and if he isn’t claimed off waivers by another team, the Ravens could sign him as soon as today. However, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Coach John Harbaugh might decide that James does not bring enough experience and proven production to the table. If that is the case, the Ravens might pursue a more proven option such as Felix Jones, Kahlil Bell or Michael Bush.
Thursday night’s game against the Steelers will be a “watershed” moment for the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Joe Flacco cannot afford to put the ball in the air 62 times as he did in the Cincinnati game. Of the last six games that Flacco has launched 40 or more passes, the Ravens have lost five. Baltimore must run the ball on at least 40 percent of their snaps or they will watch the playoffs from their sofas again. The ball is squarely in John Harbaugh’s court; run the ball or suffer the consequences!