Ravens' running game is a question mark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- One answer was essentially revealed Friday when running back Ray Rice was listed as doubtful on the injury report. But one big question remains: How are the Ravens going to fix their running game?

The Ravens are averaging a lethargic 2.8 yards per carry in their first two games, which is No. 28 in the NFL. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants are averaging worse.

Rice has been stopped behind the line as many times as he's produced a run of more than 10 yards (three). Rice and backup Bernard Pierce have been limited to 1 yard or less on 25 of their 53 carries. That's 47.1 percent of the time.

The Ravens ran the ball when they needed to do so against Cleveland last Sunday in running out the clock, but no one would say the running game has lived up to expectations.

Asked how the Ravens can get their ground game back on track, Pierce said, "The O-line has to do what they do best -- block. Backs have to stay on tracks and run the ball how we know to. And that will solve everything."

Rice and Pierce haven't had too many running lanes this season. The offensive line has struggled driving defenders off the ball, and according to Pro Football Focus, three of the Ravens' starters (tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher and center Gino Gradkowski) have negative grades for run blocking. McKinnie and Oher are among the eight worst tackles when it comes to run blocking.

Other than Gradkowski, this is the same offensive line that helped the Ravens average 134.8 yards rushing in the playoffs. Now, the Ravens are averaging 78.5 yards per game, a decrease of 56.3 yards.

The Ravens will have trouble turning the run game around Sunday, based on the Houston Texans' defense. Houston is holding teams to 3.8 yards per carry and hasn't allowed a running back to produce a run longer than 16 yards.

Now, the Ravens could be without their top back. Rice didn't practice all week with a hip flexor strain.

"Obviously, we all know that we're going to miss his ability out there," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "But we seem to be dealing with a little of injuries this year, and it's just going to be something we have to adapt to and win some games while we have guys filling in at positions."

The Ravens have expressed confidence in Pierce, who has not made a start in the NFL.

"He's a skilled back with some power and speed," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "He's been a guy that runs extremely hard, and when you look at our situation right now, he's going to have to carry a little bit more of a load. We fully expect him to step up and do the job."