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Eisenberg: Ravens Aren't in Desperation Mode, But Things Are Tense


I'm going to begin with a disclaimer: The Ravens are not – repeat, not – in desperation mode heading into Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

It's too early for that. They're tied for first in the AFC North. They've only lost one game.

When the season began, full disclosure, I thought it would be a good sign, a positive, if they carried a 2-1 record into this rivalry game. That's their record.

No, I didn't expect them to get to 2-1 as they did, by beating the Cincinnati Bengals on the road before losing badly to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

I certainly didn't see 44-7 coming. I'm sure they didn't, either.

But the Ravens are still in decent enough position heading into Sunday that they don't necessarily have to win.

Sure, a home loss to Pittsburgh is the last thing they need. But when the season began, I also thought it would be a positive if they went 3-2 to start, taking into account the caliber of the schedule and the lack of home games. They can reach 3-2 with a split of Sunday's game and next week's road contest against the Oakland Raiders.

You get my drift, right? Big game Sunday, really big, really need it, but the season is young.

So … no desperation mode.

But that doesn't mean things aren't a little tense around the Under Armour Performance Center. Because they are. And not solely due to 44-7.

Injuries continue to pile up, nibbling away at the depth chart like an army of rats. I don't know when the Ravens reach the Popeye point, when they shout, "That's all I can stand and I can't stand no more." But they're close to the brink at a couple of positions, and unlike Popeye, they can't just open some spinach and fix everything.

No NFL team has more players on injured reserve. Brent Urban, just coming into his own, became No. 16 when he suffered a Lisfranc injury in London. The week before, Marshal Yanda, an irreplaceable lineman, became No. 15 with an ankle fracture.

As much as the Ravens want to beat the Steelers Sunday, they might settle for playing 60 minutes without another season-ending injury.

It's no excuse for losing. But injuries are pushing the Ravens perilously deep into their depth chart on the offensive line, at tight end and now, possibly, up front on defense. Brandon Williams won't play Sunday, which means two-thirds of the Opening Day defensive line won't suit up.

The steady drip of subtraction has the organization scrambling, as evidenced by the widely reported news that a handful of veterans have restructured their contracts in the past few weeks.

The last thing the Ravens want is to kick any financial obligations down the road, and they aren't doing it to clear space for some eye-popping move that would pay dividends in 2017. It's too late for that. They're doing it because injuries are forcing them to continually add players.

Those circumstances would make any organization tense, as would several other issues the Ravens are dealing with, starting with the fact that their passing game is ranked last in the league. Their No. 4-ranked running game has been a nice surprise, but their passing game has been missing in action.

With the Steelers and their many playmakers in town, it's time for that passing game to awaken.

There's also the fact that quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown an interception in nine straight games. Here's a prediction: If that streak ends Sunday, the Ravens win.

Add the yardage the defense has allowed in the past two games to the injuries, etc., and you've got a team still trying to organize its pieces and establish a consistent path to success – a circumstance they share with every other NFL team, by the way, but nonetheless, one that can produce restless nights.

The good news for the Ravens is there's no place like home in their rivalry with the Steelers, who haven't won at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012. Another win won't be easily achieved Sunday, but it sure would help calm some jangled nerves.

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