The Cleveland Browns did everything they could to stop Ray Rice in the running game.
The brought extra linebackers and tightened up the defensive line after the Pro Bowler gashed them twice last year. The Browns accomplished their mission, holding Rice to 2.7 yards per carry.
But Cleveland didn't have an answer for Rice's backup, rookie third-round pick Bernard Pierce.
Rice gained 49 yards on 18 carries. Pierce ran for 48 yards – just one fewer than Rice – on only six carries. He averaged eight yards per carry and busted out a 21-yard gallop and showed what can happen when teams hone in on Rice.
"It's not hard to put a pencil on a guy and say we're going to shut their guy down and make the rest of the team beat us," Rice said. "They opened the defense up and [Pierce] found the holes that I couldn't find when I was in there."
Cleveland's defense was aggressive against the run. Pierce used that against them.
"The linebackers were real physical, downhill guys," he said. "They were shooting gaps. If you shoot a gap, you leave another gap unassigned. Patience and vision took care of that."
Pierce has had to be patient in his rookie season as he plays behind one of the best running backs in the game. He was settling into being the Ravens' short-yardage runner being that he's a 6-foot, 218-pound bulldozer.
But with Rice having trouble getting the game going early, the Ravens called on Pierce more than in the previous three games.
"It was kind of weird," Pierce said. "I was used to the short yards, used to my role and the package they had for me. When they opened it up I was like, 'Oh, now what.' So I was just out there running."
Pierce ripped off his 21-yard run in the third quarter on a second-and-3 run. Rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele collapsed the right side of the defensive line and took out a blitzing linebacker. Pierce hit the hole quickly and made one man miss before bursting into the secondary.
It was the first time Pierce broke out in a regular-season game this year. His previous longest run was for 11 yards in Week 1 against Cincinnati. Pierce entered Thursday's game with just 11 carries for 40 yards.
"He is very capable of that. That is something that he can do," Head Coach John Harbaugh said of Pierce's performance versus Cleveland.
"He is a young, talented guy. He has a lot to learn, and he is working hard at learning it."