Running back Bernard Pierce had high expectations coming into the season.
He had shown tremendous promise during his rookie campaign, and finished the year strong with bursts of explosion throughout the playoffs. He talked about the Ravens having a "scary" one-two punch with him and Ray Rice in the backfield.
But the first seven games of this season have gone much different than expected. The Ravens rank 28th in the NFL with an average of 74 rushing yards per game, and part of the issue has been a nagging hamstring injury that Pierce admitted has slowed him down in the first half of the season.
"It affected me a little bit during some games," Pierce told reporters this week. "I was finding myself trying to nurse it throughout the week and ending up messing it up a little after the games. So there was a little pain."
Pierce has been on and off the injury report throughout the season, and he has not displayed the same burst that he had last year. He has still not missed a game, rushing for 219 yards on 79 carries.
The second-year back has averaged 2.8 yards per carry, compared to 4.9 yards per rush last season.
"It's a little frustrating, but once you start letting it actually get to you then your thoughts turn negative and then you start shutting down," Pierce said. "You just have to be careful with it. You have to give it time to rest and then once it rests you have to maintain it and don't try to overdo a lot during the week."
The Ravens have limited Pierce in recent weeks, and he had just 12 carries in the last two games. He said that he aggravated his hamstring in the Week 7 game against Pittsburgh, but then he had the bye week to focus on recovering.
Now Pierce said that he is "definitely" the healthiest he has felt all season.
"I'm feeling great," he said. "I'm ready to go."
Getting Pierce back to full strength could provide a big boost to the running game and give the Ravens the combination they envisioned at the start of the year. Rice is also healthy after dealing with a hip problem, and the two backs are hoping for a strong performance down the stretch.
"I think we've seen glimpses of that and we certainly know from what they're able to do from last year – that both guys give you a unique package," Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "A 1-2 punch with a lot of quickness and power is not a bad package at all."
Pierce still thinks the Ravens have a dangerous tandem, which he's hoping to display Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
"Definitely when we're both healthy, we're definitely capable of great things," Pierce said. "The sky is the limit."