Eisenberg: Here's Why Ravens Can Survive Losses


As recently as the start of this month, the Ravens' blueprint for 2014 included Ray Rice at running back, Dennis Pitta at tight end and Eugene Monroe at left tackle.

Now Rice has been cut, Pitta is out for the season with a hip injury and Monroe has undergone knee surgery. That's some serious subtraction. It's not going to be easy for the Ravens just to sail on.

But I think they can survive, if not continue to prosper.

Now that Gary Kubiak is running the offense, they have a clear philosophy that worked for years when Kubiak coached in Houston and Denver. He's firmly committed to the run, which sets up a play-action-based passing game. The Ravens offense has adapted nicely to it. Through three games, Baltimore is ranked ninth in the league in total offense.

Going forward without those players will test the unit's depth, for sure. But I would be surprised to see much regression, if any.

The biggest concern is at left tackle, where an undrafted rookie free agent, James Hurst, is expected to step in for Monroe, who will miss at least several games. Solid line play has been a major plus; aside from the running game, quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked just three times in three games. Now Monroe's injury disrupts continuity.

I'm sure Kubiak will scheme up some help for Hurst, including more snaps for Justin Forsett, the team's top blocking back. But Hurst is going to have to hold up.

As for Pitta, the Ravens are going to miss him, no question. He could almost always be counted on to get open and provide Flacco with a viable target. His replacement, Owen Daniels, is really going to have to step up. Pitta ranked second on the team in receptions.

But while Pitta's absence in 2013 was devastating, I think the Ravens are better equipped to go without him this year. Daniels should be more of a factor than last year's fill-ins, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark. The receiving corps in general is deeper and more varied. Aside from reserve tight ends Crockett Gillmore and Philip Supernaw, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wideout Marlon Brown could play in the two-tight-end sets Kubiak loves.

As for Rice, football-wise, the Ravens' decision to cut him seemed like a potential disaster. You spend the offseason planning your offense around the second leading rusher in franchise history and then cut him as the season starts?

But the cupboard wasn't left bare. Through three weeks, the Ravens are ranked eighth in the league in rushing, averaging 137 yards per game.

Bernard Pierce almost gained 100 in Week 2. He always seems to be dealing with something, either an injury or an ill-timed fumble, but I've always thought he could produce if healthy and given a chance. We'll see.

The offseason pickup of Forsett, a veteran scatback, generated zero buzz. His career numbers are forgettable, an average of 282 rushing yards per season. But look closer. He has averaged 5.0 yards per carry. He can get upfield. This year, he's averaging 6.0 yards per carry, leading the Ravens in rushing and looking like one of GM Ozzie Newsome's shrewder pickups.

Then there's Lorenzo Taliaferro, a rookie who pounded the Cleveland Browns for 92 yards last Sunday in his first appearance. He might not have breathtaking spin moves, but he pushes piles.

Kubiak has churned out 14 thousand-yard rushers in 19 years of play-calling. I'm pretty sure Rice would have flourished in his system; Rice was in great shape and intent on bouncing back from his underwhelming 2013. But with all due respect to anyone carrying the ball for Kubiak, they're just part of the machinery, maybe more heralded but certainly no more integral than the guys up front.

The Ravens were always going to run the ball this year, no matter who carried it. With Rice gone, Pierce, Forsett and Taliaferro are in the right place at the right time.

There's a new-age baseball statistic, Wins Above Replacement, which calculates for each player how much better – or worse – his team fares with him as opposed to a statistically average player. With the Ravens, the question is whether the combined production of Pierce, Forsett and Taliaferro will be better or worse than what Rice would have contributed.

I'm not sure there's much difference. Rice made a ton of plays for years. The Ravens were going to be fine with him at running back in 2014. But I think they're going to be fine without him.

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