Ray Rice Injury: Ravens Will Survive with Bernard Pierce Carrying Load

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2013

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 08:  Running back Bernard Pierce #30 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes for a second quarter touchdown in the rain against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a preseason game at Raymond James Stadium on August 8, 2013 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens are champions for a reason.

General manager Ozzie Newsome knows exactly what he is doing, so when it was announced star running back Ray Rice would miss Week 3's contest against the Houston Texans after suffering an injury last week against Cleveland, nobody blinked.

Why? Backup and second-year running back Bernard Pierce is not only one of the NFL's most talented backups, he could start on a few teams around the league as well.

Newsome is well aware running backs in the NFL don't last long. Sure, Rice is only 26 years old and has never missed a game since his rookie season in 2008, but that didn't stop Newsome from drafting Pierce in the third round last year.

Sep 15, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) is looked at by a team trainer after suffering an apparent hip injury against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 14-6. Mandatory Cre
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are, hardly a year later, and the Ravens will be without Rice for a big game against the Texans in which Baltimore needs to improve on its 1-1 record.

Newsome isn't the only one who knows how talented Pierce is—Texans head coach Gary Kubiak had praise for Pierce this week, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun:

I think the young man playing behind [Rice] is a hell of a player...We really, really liked him coming out, has done some explosive things for them. We would not expect it to change anything that they do.

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Kubiak is right—Rice's absence won't change a thing for Baltimore.

As a rookie Pierce was given just 108 rushes, which he made the most of by averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the way to 532 yards and one touchdown.

Just last week Pierce carried the ball 19 times for 57 yards and a score in what was beginning to become a timeshare between he and Rice anyway. The coaching staff clearly trusts Pierce, who has carried the ball three more times than Rice and gained more yards.

The Texans surrender about 100 yards on the ground per game this year while ranking in the top five against the pass. If quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense is going to overcome the stout unit, Pierce will need a big performance.

Sep 15, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Bernard Pierce (30) is tackled by Cleveland Browns defensive back Joe Haden (23) during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 14 - 6. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Spor
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Pierce has done just that in the past when given the chance. He received more than 10 carries just twice as a rookie. In Week 16 he took 14 handoffs and gained 123 yards. He followed that up the next week with 22 carries for 89 yards against a tough Cincinnati defense.

Not only has Pierce shown he can be the starter, the Ravens will especially need him against a Houston team that has pulled off two serious comeback victories in consecutive weeks over San Diego and Tennessee.

Pierce's ability to grind out significant yardage will prevent any sort of comeback should the Ravens get a lead. His ability to balance out the offense despite Rice's absence will keep Houston honest, although it sounds as if Kubiak likes Pierce enough to do that in the first place. 

Losing Rice hurts in a big way, but thanks to the prowess of the Baltimore front office and the special talent Pierce is quickly becoming, the Ravens will be just fine without Rice in short term as Pierce handles things in the backfield.

Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling