On Thursday, the NFL announced that they had suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games, beginning with the 2014 season opener in Baltimore on September 7. At the risk of venturing into “vulture” territory, it’s worth pointing out that the Cincinnati Bengals could be a direct beneficiary of this ruling, as they will be the first to lineup against the Ravens. Knowing this early on that they don’t have to prepare for Rice can only be seen as a benefit for a unit undergoing a bit of reorganization under first-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
Rice has been a premier back for most of his six-year NFL career, but he revealed in January that he had played through most of the 2013 season while battling a hip injury. Coupled with an increased emphasis by the Ravens on trying to make Joe Flacco a more Peyton-Manning-type pocket passer, that balky hip limited Rice to 660 yards and four touchdowns on 214 carries in 15 games last year, a marked drop in production. The Ravens and Rice had high hopes that his lower body would be in good shape for this season and looked forward to once again beefing up their running game.
That may still happen, but Rice won’t hit the field until September 12. By that time, the Bengals will have already made their yearly visit, to take on a backfield that features … Pierce Bernard? Lorenzo Taliaferro? As an Indiana native, I also follow the Indianapolis Colts and have witnessed their defenses make stars of opposing RBs, but the Ravens list of backups doesn’t inspire a lot of awe at this point. Given the Bengals’ stout defense, missing Rice could be the death knell for the Ravens in the season opener.
In what promises to be a brawl of a season in the AFC North, the Bengals need every advantage they can get, and Ray Rice’s suspension could give them an early leg up on a key competitor.