History and statistics show us that running backs in the NFL only have so many carries in them, and due to the pace and workload the Baltimore Ravens have been putting Ray Rice through since he entered the NFL, there’s a good chance we’ll see a lot more of Bernard Pierce next season.
It’s a game of numbers, as proven by ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner: Only 122 players in NFL history have tallied at least 1,500 touches during their career, 11 of them still active. Of the retired bunch, only 65 made it to 1800 touches; only 42 made it to 2,100.
Rice ran for 1143 yards on 257 attempts and caught 478 yards on 61 touches. That was already a decline for him from his record 2011 season (2068 total yards, 367 touches), mostly due to the rise of rookie Bernard Pierce, running for 532 yards on 108 carries although barely used in the passing game, while Joe Flacco also got to throw a bit more than usual.
In the postseason Pierce wasn’t used much, averaging 9.8 carries per game, including 12 in the Super Bowl, rushing for only 33 yards. Rice had one big game against the Broncos, going for 130 yards on 30 carries, but the rest of the time was between 15-20 carries, including a disappointing 59 yards in the Super Bowl against the hard-to-run against San Francisco 49ers.
This all means there’s a good chance that a slightly worn down Ray Rice is going to begin and share the load with Pierce. Pierce isn’t as good in pass protection or catching the ball as Rice, but he’s a much bigger back, and his production per carry (5.2 in the postseason compared to Rice’s 3.6) might mean we’ll start seeing him in early down situations more and more, while also eating up the clock if the Ravens hold the lead late in the game.
Bobby Rainey is another running back who is entering his second NFL season, but he wasn’t used at all in 2012. He’s similar to Rice in stature, but it’s hard to believe he’ll be eating up too many of anyone’s personal time with the ball in 2013.
Ray Rice is still one of the best in the NFL, and he is only 26, although age doesn’t mean high-usage early in his career isn’t going to catch up with him pretty soon. Yet there’s a feeling that the Ravens are both turning towards a bigger, younger and less worn out running back next season, not to mention possibly looking to focus more on their passing game after the kind of performance Falcco put on during the postseason.