Bernard Pierce, the second-year running back out of Temple, may end up the feature running back this Sunday against the Houston Texans. That's because Ray Rice is still doubtful to play due to injury— but it's also because Bernard Pierce is pretty good in his own right.
Garrett Downing brings us the weekend depth chart and injury report from his Ravens.com office computer:
Ray Rice Will Be Game-Time Decision
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice (hip) did not practice all week, and the decision on whether to play him against the Houston Texans is expected to come down to the wire.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said it will be a “game-time decision” on Rice, who is officially listed as doubtful on the injury report.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed, although we’re prepared for it to go either way,” Harbaugh said.
Rice suffered a hip flexor strain in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Browns while trying to make a cut upfield. He left the game and did not return.
The fact that Rice did not practice all week was not surprising, as Harbaugh said Monday that his plan was to rest the star running back. As a veteran player, the Ravens have confidence to play Rice even thoughhe did not take the practice field at all.
“There’s no question he can do it,” Harbaugh said. “When guys like that don’t play because they haven’t practiced, it’s because they’re not ready physically. It’s not because we have some kind of rule around here like that. It has to do with how ready a guy is to play.”
But as Jamison Hensley has pointed out at ESPN.com, even if Pierce is qualified to take Rice' place in the lineup, it may not necessarily be the real key to fixing the Ravens' runing game.
The Ravens are averaging a lethargic 2.8 yards per carry in their first two games, which is No. 28 in the NFL. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants are averaging worse.
Rice has been stopped behind the line as many times as he's produced a run of more than 10 yards (three). Rice and backup Bernard Pierce have been limited to 1 yard or less on 25 of their 53 carries. That's 47.1 percent of the time.
The Ravens ran the ball when they needed to do so against Cleveland last Sunday in running out the clock, but no one would say the running game has lived up to expectations.
Asked how the Ravens can get their ground game back on track, Pierce said, "The O-line has to do what they do best — block. Backs have to stay on tracks and run the ball how we know to. And that will solve everything."
Rice and Pierce haven't had too many running lanes this season. The offensive line has struggled driving defenders off the ball, and according to Pro Football Focus, three of the Ravens' starters (tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher and center Gino Gradkowski) have negative grades for run blocking. McKinnie and Oher are among the eight worst tackles when it comes to run blocking.
Other than Gradkowski, this is the same offensive line that helped the Ravens average 134.8 yards rushing in the playoffs. Now, the Ravens are averaging 78.5 yards per game, a decrease of 56.3 yards.
The Ravens will have trouble turning the run game around Sunday, based on the Houston Texans' defense. Houston is holding teams to 3.8 yards per carry and hasn't allowed a running back to produce a run longer than 16 yards.