It’s quite obvious that Bernard Pierce will be the Raven’s starting running back for at least the first 2-6 games of the season as Ray Rice is all but certain to receive a suspension. The Ravens have made it clear that Pierce is the next man up, and he has flashed some talent in the past. But while most expect Rice to regain the starting job when he returns, there is a great chance that Pierce will give the Ravens no choice but to leave him there.
We hear all the time that there is no loyalty in football, and it is a very true statement. Competition is welcome and no one’s position should ever be safe. It’s what makes this game the most popular sport in the U.S. and what drives us fans to obsess over it. When a guys misses games and another guy steps up and performs, sometimes coaches don’t mess with momentum. Here are 5 reasons why this will be the case in Baltimore.
1. Pierce is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking offense.
Gary Kubiak is a disciple of Mike Shanhan, who is widely considered to be the zone blocking master. Shanahan’s scheme is famous for making stars out of no name running backs like former sixth rounder turned hall of famer Terrell Davis. Davis was a classic one cut runner who made his move and hit the hole hard, which is the key to success in this scheme. It requires patience and vision while holes develop. What Shanny didn’t want to see was dancing in the backfield, reverses, etc.
Kubiak continued the tradition of churning out yards with no name backs in Houston, where he turned undrafted runner Arian Foster into a superstar. Now that Kubiak is coaching the offense in Baltimore, guess what running back on the roster fits the prototypical mold of a hard charging, one cut runner? Bernard Pierce.
2. Kubiak features one back heavily.
Another characteristic of Kubiak’s scheme is his perchance for giving most of the carries to one guy, with only a small percentage going to a “change up” or “breather” type back. In Houston, Foster racked up an average of 318 carries per season in 2010-2012 (he missed the bulk of 2013 with injury, so we won’t count last season). Backup Ben Tate average 120 carries during that span.
3. Rice would make a great change of pace, passing down back.
Let’s face it, Ray Rice is the perfect change up back. He runs the ball well but he is also great at making catches out of the backfield. As disappointing as last season was, Rice still caught 58 passes. He ran a 4.4 coming out of college and still has plenty of speed. He is elusive in the open field and quick to the edge.
4. Rice is physically breaking down.
Rice has a lot of wear on his tires from both his college and pro career, leading him to break down physically a little earlier than most. He would benefit from having his carries scaled back a bit to lengthen his career. Heavy usage catches up with every running back, typically without warning. The Ravens would be wise to keep him fresh through the season instead of risking injury when he returns from suspension by throwing him into the fire. Pierce has a lot less wear, is younger, and will be 100% healthy by training camp.
5. It is hard to return from injury/suspension mid season.
History is ripe with examples of players who have missed games due to injury, suspension, or hold out and then came back only to get injured or struggle. RG3, Darrelle Revis, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, and Maurice Jones-Drew to name a few. Rice showed up to camp in great shape, but in reality nothing prepares you for live football like live football. It’s why the first games of the season are typically filled with player error and can get a little sloppy. The best bet for Rice would be to ease back in, especially when considering his injury history.
Who do you think will be the Raven’s starting running back by mid season?