The Baltimore Ravens have said that running back Ray Rice is day-to-day with a strained left hip flexor and it appears he won’t miss significant time, if any. However, the stock has just risen for backup running back Bernard Pierce as it seems like the second-year back should bear the burden of a heavier workload.
The former Temple Owl has been an impressive downhill compliment to Rice thus far during the early stages of his NFL career, and provides similar skills to that of the Ravens’ top back. The 23-year-old possesses the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s more known for his bruising straight-ahead running style.
Keep in mind that Pierce has yet to carry the ball more than 22 times in a single game — he did that in the Ravens’ meaningless Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. I’m not doubting his ability to be the No. 1 back if called upon, but given that this is Rice’s first real injury during his six-year career, it will be interesting to see if Pierce has to handle the bulk of the carries.
Last week, in the Ravens’ 14-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Pierce had 19 carries for 57 yards, a rushing touchdown and one catch for a loss of two. His only two touchdowns have come against the Browns.
If the Ravens want to see how to manager a star running back with a nagging injury, look no further than their Week 3 opponent, the Houston Texans.
Quite possibly the owners the best one-two punch in the game with running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the Texans use these backs similarly to the way the Ravens alternate Pierce and Rice. Both Foster and Tate went over the 900-yard plateau back in 2011, and Tate has even shown his frustrations with the organization about playing second fiddle to Foster.
I’m not suggesting that the Ravens have that problem brewing on their hands, but if Pierce puts out enough quality efforts on a consistent basis, that problem may arise.
The key for Pierce going forward is not to worry about the health of Rice and worry about his assignments alone. It also hinges on the play of the offensive line for Baltimore, which hasn’t been stellar thus far this season. Facing a tough front seven led by the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt doesn’t make matters any easier.
Even if Rice doesn’t miss any time, he won’t likely be at 100 percent this week. It’s time for Pierce to step up in an even bigger way and emerge as a serious threat for this offense.