Ray Rice doubtful for Sunday, Bernard Pierce to get first career start
Ray Rice went down in Week 2 with a scary non-contact hip injury, and though it has since been reported that the injury is not severe, Rice has been held out of practice all week leading up to the Ravens' matchup with the Houston Texans on Sunday.
The Ravens organization is extremely high on backup running back Bernard Pierce, their 2012 third-round pick out of Temple University. He's an explosive runner who excels between the tackles, and once he gets to the second level, it is legitimately painful for defenders to take him down. He does not have the same prowess in the passing game as Rice does, but he is viable enough to be used as a receiver when necessary.
With such a talented runner as their No. 2 back, the Ravens felt no need to push Rice, who has a ton of wear and tear on his legs over the past few seasons. Rice has been listed as doubtful, which technically means that he is 25% or less likely to suit up on game day. Pierce will get his first career start in Rice's absence.
While the Ravens do lose their one-two punch in the run game and an elite security blanket for quarterback Joe Flacco, Rice's absence should not have much of a negative effect on the Ravens' offensive production. In 2012, Pierce - albeit in a limited sample size - was charted as having a broken tackle rate that nearly doubled the rate at which Rice was shedding defenders. Pierce's broken tackle rate was fifth-best in the NFL. He averaged 4.9 yards on his 108 carries as a rookie, and added 202 yards on 39 carries (5.2 YPC) during the Ravens' Super Bowl run. He's a starting-caliber running back and is very likely to produce when given the opportunity.
Rice owners should beware, as Matt Gagne of Sports Illustrated predicted in the preseason that Pierce would become "a more prolific runner than Ray Rice" this year. Pierce certainly has the talent to take some early-down work away from Rice, and this weekend could be his chance to prove that he deserves a bigger role.
Pierce will make his first start against a Texans defense that has been solid against the run through two games, giving up 3.8 yards per carry, which is about average in the league so far this year. Pierce is a legit RB2 in fantasy leagues this week, so hopefully Rice's owners handcuffed him in their drafts (I did rank him as the No. 1 handcuff running back in August). Pierce could maintain standalone value in fantasy leagues with a strong showing on Sunday.
As for Rice, it looks like he should be healthy enough to suit up for Week 4's matchup with the Buffalo Bills - but as I said before, with Pierce backing him up, the Ravens have no need to rush Rice back.