The Baltimore Ravens are counting on having injured running back Ray Rice this Sunday against the unbeaten Houston Texans, even though the three-time Pro Bowl star may not be healthy enough to practice this week.
Rice strained his left hip flexor Sunday in the fourth quarter of Baltimore's 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns. The good news is that the team has not scheduled an MRI to assess the extent of the damage.
"That's the indication that it's not anything really serious," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "They would be looking at it if they thought it was. So we'll just be day-to-day with him."
Now in his sixth NFL season, Rice knows the Baltimore (1-1) playbook well enough to skip practice before facing the Texans (2-0) on Sunday.
"I'd probably lean toward resting him this week and then seeing how he looks this weekend," Harbaugh said. "He's not going to need the practice to play in the game. If he feels great, we'll put him out there. If he doesn't, we'll probably rest him and get him ready to go Sunday if possible."
Rice gained only 36 yards rushing on 13 carries against the Browns. Backup Bernard Pierce compiled a team-high 57 yards rushing and a touchdown.
No one is going to confuse Pierce, a rookie last year, with Rice. But Pierce did a fine job running out the clock after Rice left, gaining 10 yards on three carries for the game's final first down.
"When you're trying to run the clock down, they know you're running," Pierce said. "They have to stop you and we can't let that happen."
If Pierce has to start, Harbaugh could live with it.
"We've had confidence in Bernard since the day he got here and started practicing," the coach said. "He continues to get better. ... He's becoming a complete back."
Baltimore's offensive line won't have to go through any extra effort to open a lane for Pierce, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2012.
"Next man up," guard Marshal Yanda said. "Sooner or later somebody is going to get hurt. The next guy has to take advantage and be ready to go because injuries, they are just going to happen. That's just the way it goes."
Rice wasn't the only player hurt Sunday. Defensive lineman Chris Canty strained his groin and cornerback Chykie Brown strained his knee. Those are the latest in a series of injuries that have forced the Ravens to use defensive starters Jimmy Smith, James Ihedigbo, Matt Elam and Michael Huff on special teams.
"We're a little bit nicked up," Harbaugh acknowledged. "That's a challenge, but they they're stepping up. You don't hear a word. They love to play, but it isn't easy."
The Texans have thus far defeated San Diego and Tennessee this season. Houston pinned a 43-13 defeat on Baltimore on last year.
"We got drubbed down there," Harbaugh said. "They do a great job with their schemes, all three phases, and they always play hard. They've got weapons everywhere. It's just going to be a big challenge for us."
The oddsmakers think so, too. Although Baltimore is 34-7 at home under Harbaugh, a run that includes victories in 22 of its last 25 games at M&T Bank Stadium, the Texans have been installed a slight favorite.
The Ravens are defending Super Bowl champions and Houston has won two playoff games in its history, both in the last two years against Cincinnati. But Baltimore is still trying to adjust to a massive roster overhaul, and although the Ravens bounced back to beat the Browns after absorbing a 49-27 bashing in Denver, they're a long way off from where they want to be.
"We improved in some areas, and yet, when you watch the tape, there are still areas we need to improve in," Harbaugh said. "It's a work in progress. I feel like we're under construction."
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