Pierce, Rice Built For Success In Modern NFL
By Cian Fahey
The NFL has moved away from run-based offenses. Not since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2003 has a team won the Super Bowl with an offense that wasn't substantially reliant on the quarterback position. The Buccaneers had a dominant defense that compensated for their limited offensive output, but even that is an incredibly difficult path to take to the big game.
Because of the high-powered passing attacks in the league, teams are able to consistently make big plays down the field and score much quicker than they did in the past. That makes it next to impossible for offenses that hand the ball to a running back 20-plus times to keep pace. Instead of using big power backs to wear down defenses, offenses are moving towards faster and quicker runners who can make defenders miss in the open field and score from anywhere on the field when opportunities arise.
Even though the Baltimore Ravens appear to have a weaker passing attack this year, they aren't moving in the wrong direction with a balanced offense.
Baltimore will likely run the ball more this season, but Ray Rice will be joined by Bernard Pierce. The second-year back is expected to move into an even greater role than the one he enjoyed as a rookie. Rice and PIerce are different types of players, but both could be considered new-age runners. Rice is a very agile player who is a strong receiver with enough breakaway speed to make big plays. Pierce isn't as elusive as Rice and doesn't possess the same receiving ability, but his speed means that he can rip off chunks of yardage on limited touches.
Compared to the Ravens' former running back committees of Rice and Ricky Wiliams or Rice and Willis McGahee, the rushing attack is in much better shape to succeed today.
Explaining the difference between a new-age rusher and a stone-age back can be done by looking at last year's draft class. The top two running backs taken in the 2012 class were Trent Richardson and Doug Martin. Richardson was taken at the top of the first round by the Cleveland Browns. Injuries limited his impact during his first season, but even so, it's unlikely that he would ever have eclipsed what Martin managed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Martin finished the season with 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and added 49 receptions for 472 more yards. Richardson finished the season with 52 fewer carries, but he also averaged a full yard less per carry and had less receiving yards on more receptions. Martin's speed in the open field and his ability to consistently make plays all over the field meant that the Buccaneers could rely on him, but because Richardson is a bigger back who looks to wear down defenses with his power before making big plays, his opportunities for success were significantly fewer.
Unless a team has a dominant defense, it's impossible to commit 20-plus carries to a tough, between-the-tackles runner in today's NFL. Instead, players like Martin, Pierce and Rice are needed to create big plays as quickly as quarterbacks throwing downfield. Without Anquan Boldin or an obvious successor, the Ravens should look to rely on their rushing attack more next season. Even though it's a move being made out of necessity, it is still a smart move to make.