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Eisenberg: To Keep Season Alive, Ravens Must Prove They Can Overcome Marshal Yanda's Injury


Early in the third quarter of the Ravens' home opener, Marshal Yanda limped off the field with what turned out to be a season-ending ankle injury.

The first-team offense has scored one touchdown in 10 quarters since then.

Although the Ravens went on to win on the day Yanda went down, they have since lost twice, scoring just 16 points in the process.

They're still very much in the playoff picture with a 2-2 record, but with their offense in a tailspin, you can see the outline of an ominous narrative beginning to form:

The Ravens, it might be said one day, were never the same after Yanda limped off the field.

That's the organization's challenge now, to render that ominous narrative inaccurate, prove it wasn't so.

For sure, many factors besides Yanda's absence are contributing to the struggles enveloping the team. There have been numerous injuries besides Yanda's. Too many turnovers. A leaky run defense. Joe Flacco hasn't been himself. The playmakers aren't making plays. The defense hasn't been as dominant as expected.

But the loss of Yanda, one of the NFL's best linemen, certainly has been the biggest setback for a team that began the season with a pair of encouraging wins.

The offensive line was already dealing with the loss of key players due to injuries and John Urschel's retirement. I've heard several analysts suggest Yanda's injury was the subtraction that forced the Ravens to dig too far into their depth on the line.

"There are a couple of young guys out there. I am not going to sit here and say there aren't. There are young guys out there who are learning on the run, especially at right guard," Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday.

Without Yanda, the line is struggling to protect Flacco and open holes for runners, which leads to the offense not moving the chains consistently, which leads to the defense being on the field too long, which hampers its effectiveness.

That domino effect brings to mind how Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti viewed the impact of linebacker Terrell Suggs' season-ending injury in Week 1 two years ago.

After that season, which ended up as the Ravens' least successful under Harbaugh, Bisciotti pointed to Suggs' loss as "the biggest single domino" that set in motion a series of unfortunate events.

Are we looking at another fall of dominos, only with Yanda's injury as the starting point?

Things look bleak right now. If not for Alex Collins' 50-yard run setting up a score Sunday, the first-team offense might be looking at a streak of almost 10 quarters without a touchdown.

But needless to say, the coaches and players aren't just giving in. "Even though it seems like the season's over, we're 2-2, and it's only Week 4," linebacker C.J. Mosley said after Sunday's game.

It's not as if the offense has shown zero life. It controlled the ball effectively in a Week 1 victory, produced three touchdowns in a half in Week 2. It found a nice rhythm for awhile Sunday after Collins' long run.

My two cents, the wide receivers are good enough to get the job done if you can get them more involved, which needs to happen. The running game is definitely improved over a year ago.

What needs to change? Stop turning the ball over, for starters. A running back has lost a fumble in three straight games. Flacco has thrown an interception in 10 straight. That's killer stuff.

Starting faster in games also would help, generating momentum and confidence for the offense, as opposed to having the same sense of concern set in when things don't go well.

"We've got to be better off early in games," Flacco said Sunday. "That's the type of game that's going to benefit us right now, is being good early and then putting teams away."

Of course, so much depends on the line, still reeling from losing Yanda. It's a pretty simple situation there. There's no miracle solution, no white-knight savior coming in. The starters just need to keep grinding, try to develop chemistry and see if they can start disproving that ominous narrative about Yanda's injury. It certainly isn't a tale anyone around here wants to hear.

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