After going virtually ignored in the offense for the first 12 weeks of the season, rookie Bernard Pierce is taking off under new coordinator Jim Caldwell.
There isn't much difference in the look of the Ravens' offense but there is in how a player such as Pierce, the No. 2 running back behind Ray Rice, is being used.
He showed not only speed but the ability to run through and hurdle defenders, but as the Ravens go to play the Denver Broncos in a second-round playoff game Saturday it couldn't have come at a better time.
“It’s a definite confidence booster because I just want to be able to keep getting better week in and week out,” Pierce said. “I’ve proven that to myself and everybody else. I’m just excited.”
He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, finishing the regular season with 532. A chunk of those yards came in the last two games when he posted a team season-high 123 on just 14 carries against the New York Giants and 89 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.
In Sunday’s 24-9 playoff win vs. the Indianapolis Colts, Pierce led the way again with 103 yards on just 13 carries. Rice finished with 70 on 15 attempts. The Ravens established a playoff franchise record with 441 yards of offense. Coupled with Rice's receiving yards, he combined with Pierce for 220 all-purpose yards.
“We’re taking care of each other. That’s the one thing that you’re seeing out there. I spell myself. There are times where I just tell him to go,” said Rice, who has had four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and Pro Bowl selection this season. “I have that trust in him now. … I just signed a five-year deal. So what am I going to do? Got out there and burn myself out in Year 1? That’s just not smart.”
It’s a combination that relieves the pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco and gives the offense more options. Flacco only had 12 completions vs. the Colts, but threw for 282 yards.
When the Ravens scored their first points Sunday, it was from a 23-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. Pierce ran the ball five times on that drive for 37 yards to help set it up.
Under Cam Cameron, fired after Week 14’s loss to the Washington Redskins, Pierce was a non-entity. The low point for the Ravens came in a 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 7.
Aside from it being an embarrassing performance by the Ravens, Pierce played in that game but didn’t get a single touch. Harbaugh lamented during the bye week they needed to get him more engaged in the offense to be successful, but that consistency of using Pierce didn’t happen until post-Cameron.
Pierce got his first touchdown in a Week 9 win at the Cleveland Browns and he combined with Rice to get them out to a 14-0 lead. Pierce had four carries on the second drive and punched it in on a 12-yard run. For the rest of the game, he only had three more carries as the Ravens offense disappeared for the next two quarters as they fell behind and had to come back to win.
“His style is different from Ray. But both guys are capable of making big plays. When they’re in the open field, they can stretch it and take it the distance, or most of the distance,” Ravens center Matt Birk said. “You can never have enough running backs. Those guys take a pounding, and we’re lucky to have two good ones.”