Eisenberg: The Key To Maneuvering Out Of Ravens' 'Dark Place'


Now that the Ravens have lost four straight games to stumble into what Dennis Pitta so aptly called "a dark place," the question is whether there's any way for them to maneuver out of the darkness back into the light. 

If the tenor of the chatter on social media is any indication, it appears much of the public doesn't think so after Sunday's discouraging loss to the New York Jets. There are so many available seats on the Ravens' bandwagon that you can pretty much sit wherever you want.

Naturally, the players and coaches take a more measured view, believing not that the season is lost, but that their team simply isn't playing up to its potential – a stance that implies a possibility for better days, hard as those are to imagine right now.

This much I know: The Ravens obviously are living right, because they're just one game out of first place in the AFC North after an entire month of losing, so they still have something to play for.

But I also know this: There's no use even talking about standings or playoffs until the Ravens show they've raised their game from Sunday's desultory level.

And furthermore: If they truly want to have a shot at emerging from the darkness into a semblance of light this season, they need to get their offensive line figured out.

That's where everything starts … or ends.

A series of recurring problems on both sides of the ball has produced the team's longest losing streak since Head Coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008, but offensive interior woes are issue No. 1.

The defense is playing at a level you can win with. It wasn't especially stout in either of the New York, New York losses at MetLife Stadium, but it's being asked to carry a heavy load as the offense stumbles, and its top-10 ranking in the fewest yards allowed and fewest points allowed metrics suggests it's hanging in there.

The offense is the larger concern. When a unit has reached the end zone on just 10 of 86 possessions, well, that startling statistic says it all.

A combination of issues is at work, and you've heard them -- injuries, play-calling, Joe Flacco's mechanics. But the line is the core issue, the fundamental must-fix.

It played shorthanded Sunday, without rookie blind-side tackle Ronnie Stanley and All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda for a second straight week. The results were nightmarish. The running game went nowhere, generating just 6 yards until it had to be abandoned. Flacco was steadily pressured, hit four times and sacked once.

It's a sequence of events that has become familiar in 2016. Flacco often seems hurried when he drops back because he knows the heat is coming. And the running game brings little relief.

The Ravens have their best chance to re-establish some normalcy when Stanley is at left tackle, Alex Lewis at left guard, Jeremy Zuttah at center, Yanda at right guard and Rick Wagner at right tackle. Pro Football Focus hasn't always given them high grades, but the Ravens went 3-0 with that starting group to open the season.

Since injuries created a lineup merry-go-round up front, the Ravens are 0-4. That's not a coincidence.

Stanley's absence has been especially disappointing. Other top 2016 draft picks such as Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have become instant difference-makers as rookies, and the Ravens hoped their highest first-round pick in 16 years would do the same. He was something of an Ironman at Notre Dame, but now he hasn't played since Sept. 25 because of a foot injury.

As for Yanda, the fact that he has missed any time means his shoulder injury must be a whopper, because he is renowned for playing through just about any physical setback.

It's crucial that both guys are back on the field when the season resumes with a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6. Nothing is going to change unless the Ravens can run better and give Flacco more time to throw. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hasn't won a game since he took over, but a solid, healthy, functioning offensive line can work wonders.

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