The numbers have been anything but good for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice this season.
He doesn't have a 100-yard rushing game; he has just one game in which he reached the 100-yard plateau in rushing and receiving yards combined.
As ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley wrote earlier this week, Rice is on pace to rush for less than 600 yards, and the Ravens are on track to compile one of the worst rushing averages in league history. When it comes to rushing offense, Baltimore simply doesn't have it this season. For the Bengals, who rank 10th in stopping the run, that's a good thing. But they know that when they square off with the Ravens on the road Sunday they can't be the team that suddenly lets Rice and the Ravens establish the run.
That's why, as strange as it may sound considering Baltimore's struggles, part of the Bengals' defensive focus this week has remained to key on the run.
Given the way Rice has performed against them in the past, the Bengals aren't quick to dismiss his nightmarish season. After all, in 10 previous meetings, he has averaged 75.4 yards on the ground and 89.8 yards receiving against Cincinnati. In two of those games, both Baltimore wins, he rushed for 104 and 191 yards, respectively. So the ability to have a big game certainly is there.
Part of the problem for Rice may be a hip injury he's been playing through almost all season has him a step or two slower. Injuries to his offensive line and tight ends have hindered blocking consistency, too.
As we begin this Friday's Morning Stripes, we take a look at what the Bengals are saying about wanting to continue to stop Rice:
We start things off with Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, who comes to the conclusion that employing a gang-tackling style of play is the best way to contain Rice. Once he is contained, the defense has to do like defensive end Michael Johnson suggests and just "pull cloth." As poor as Rice's numbers look, he's still an aggressive north-south runner who doesn't like going down. One hit won't stop him, but two or three will. When it comes to matchups Sunday, this one looms quite large.
Sticking with running backs, we turn to the Bengals' beloved rusher, Giovani Bernard. Much like Rice, Bernard is a smaller-sized back who can be tough to tackle and plays best in space. Like Rice, Bernard has shown an ability to make plays in the passing game, catching screens and racking up large yards-after-the-catch numbers. One of the things Bernard also does well is create big gains where opportunities for them don't appear to exist. Look no further than his athletic, field-reversing 35-yard touchdown run at Miami last Thursday to see just how well Bernard can ad lib. I wrote about it a bit on the blog Thursday, but here's the take on that improvisation through the eyes of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and written by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr.
Staying with Bernard, here's a look at the Associated Press' midseason awards. The running back claimed victories in two categories: Offensive Rookie and Best Play. Yes, that aforementioned 35-yard touchdown run was an impressive one, but was it a better play than Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson's high-leaping, 50-yard touchdown reception that came over a trio of Bengals receivers earlier this year? Not sure. Both were amazing plays.
A report from The Baltimore Sun early Thursday indicated the Bengals returned about 300 tickets for Sunday's game. So, if you're in the mid-Atlantic this weekend and want to see this AFC North clash, there should still be a few tickets for you to purchase.
Also from The Sun, this look at a growing injury report that included veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs. With the injuries and the difficulties the Ravens have had winning games, they could not afford to have Suggs missing in action this weekend.
One off-field note worth mentioning: The TNA Impact wrestling federation that Adam Jones wrestled for when he was out of football back in 2007 welcomed him back Thursday night at an event in Cincinnati. He didn't wrestle, but was the featured guest in attendance at ringside. He was joined by practice squad player DeQuin Evans.