Previewing the Ravens vs. the Houston Texans [Pictures]
As the Ravens (1-1) prepare to square off against the Houston Texans (2-0) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, read Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson's checklist of key areas and players to watch.
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1. How will Bernard Pierce fare in his first NFL start?
As backups go, running back Bernard Pierce stands apart as a quality alternative capable of punishing linebackers and breaking tackles. He also has some breakaway speed, even though he takes a straightforward, one-cut approach to his running style.
Pierce will need those qualities Sunday, when he's slated to make his first NFL start. Ray Rice is listed as doubtful and not expected to play, according to sources. His left hip flexor strain is seen as needing two weeks of recovery time. While there's no structural damage to the hip, Rice could aggravate the injury if he rushes back too soon.
Pierce is a nice change-of-pace back with a downhill running style and some speed once he breaks into the open field. The Ravens could use a ball-control approach, one of their most effective strategies during a 14-6 win last Sunday over the Cleveland Browns in which Pierce finished with 19 carries for 57 yards and one touchdown.
Pierce already has dealt with injuries this season, including a minor sprained knee during the preseason and a hamstring injury during the regular season.
The Ravens will need him close to full strength for an increased workload against a Texans front seven headlined by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year defensive end J.J. Watt and aggressive inside linebacker Brian Cushing.
However, the Texans rank 18th in rushing defense, having allowed 99.5 yards per game on the ground.