With J.K. Dobbins Out for the Season, Will Ravens Pursue Trade for Jonathan Taylor?
After watching running back J.K. Dobbins, safety Marcus Williams, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and center Tyler Linderbaum exit the Ravens' season-opening, 25-9 win over the Houston Texans, a line from the blues classic "Born Under a Bad Sign" came to mind:
"If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."
It was an agonizing and all-too-familiar scene for the Ravens, who have had more than their share of injuries to key players the past few years.
"It would be hard for the woe-is-me portion of the Baltimore fan base not to be wondering if this is just the start of another devastating season on the injury front," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "In 2021, the major injuries started early and never relented. The Ravens were much healthier last season, but they were still dealing with a number of major injuries that carried over from the year before — and then Lamar Jackson's season ended prematurely.
"Obviously, [Head Coach John] Harbaugh won't allow his team to adopt a gloom-and-doom mindset, and that's not an attitude that traditionally permeates the Ravens' locker room anyway. But there was clearly a subdued mood in the home locker room at M&T Bank Stadium late Sunday afternoon despite the Week 1 victory."
Dobbins' injury was the most devastating, as he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles. The 2020 second-round pick missed all of the 2021 season after suffering a knee injury in the preseason, and he was limited to eight games last season.
"Unlike two years ago, the cupboard isn't bare at running back with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill poised for bigger roles and former two-time Pro Bowl selection Melvin Gordon III likely to be promoted from the practice squad, but Dobbins entering Sunday with a career 5.9 yards per carry average wasn't a fluke," Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones wrote. "There's no winning the Super Bowl in Week 1, but losing such upside can put a substantial dent in your championship aspirations. Unfortunately, it's a lesson the Ravens have learned all too well over the last few seasons."
Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who had a strong preseason before suffering a shoulder sprain, is eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 5.
Once the severity of Dobbins' injury was reported, speculation began as to whether the Ravens will look to sign another running back.
Two household names who were floated are Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor and free agent Leonard Fournette.
Taylor, who is on the physically unable to perform list with an ankle injury, is seeking a new contract and requested a trade last month. The 24-year old Taylor is reportedly planning to be ready to play as early as Week 5, when he is eligible to come off the PUP list.
"From the Ravens' perspective, it all depends on the asking price," The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon wrote. "It was previously reported that the Colts are seeking significant draft-pick compensation — a first-round choice or a comparable package of picks — for Taylor, but that price might come down as the season goes on.
"There's also the matter of his contract. Like Dobbins, Taylor is in the final year of his rookie deal and is set to become a free agent after the season. Although he was limited to 861 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 11 games last season as he dealt with injuries, Taylor led the league with 1,811 yards and 18 scores in 2021 and would likely command a top-of-the-market deal."
Regarding Fournette, Fansided’s Mark Powell wrote: "Lenny is a solid power running back, even if not viewed as an RB1 at this point in his career. Fournette would pair well with both Edwards and Hill, giving the Ravens even more options with Dobbins out long-term. Fournette is just 28 with a limited injury history — something that is tough to find at the running back position. Assuming the Ravens don't get involved in the trade discussion for Jonathan Taylor, for one, then Fournette could be an attractive, yet affordable target for Baltimore."
Williams (pec), Stanley (knee), and Linderbaum (ankle) are all set to undergo MRIs to determine the severity of their injuries. Harbaugh will be asked about the test results at his press conference later today.
The initial fear was that Williams had suffered a torn pec, but Jordan Schultz reported that Williams is optimistic the injury isn't overly serious.
An Uneven Performance for New Offense
There was a lot of excitement and anticipation surrounding the Ravens' revamped offense under new coordinator Todd Monken heading into yesterday's game, but the enthusiasm was tempered by an uneven performance.
Baltimore managed just 265 yards of total offense. Jackson, who quipped a few months ago that he wanted to throw for 6,000 yards, had 169 yards passing against the Texans. He also threw an interception and fumbled twice (losing one).
The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer: "The Ravens' old reliables were mostly missing and their new wrinkles were not much fun. Monken's sped-up tempo kept the Texans on their heels at points in the first half, creating advantages in short-yardage scenarios. But the run-pass options and screens that Monken's Georgia offenses had used to wreck defenses for the past two seasons were either ineffective or invisible Sunday.
"The Ravens' ground game, which had rolled late last season, even without Jackson, was perhaps more disappointing (3.4 yards per carry on 32 carries). Jackson led the team with six carries for 38 yards, but five of those attempts were scrambles and the other a quarterback sneak. Texans defenders didn't seem preoccupied by the threat of Jackson keeping the ball on read-option plays or escaping their blitz packages on obvious passing downs."
NFL.com’s Jeffri Chadiha: "For all the talk about the revamped look of Baltimore's offense under new coordinator Todd Monken, that unit severely underwhelmed in its debut. … The good news is that this is Baltimore, a team that usually finds a way to adapt to whatever is thrown at it. It's going to take time for Jackson to find a comfort level with an offense that will be asking him to do more with his wide receivers. The loss of Dobbins also will impact some of the creativity Monken wants to instill in this unit. There's plenty of time for it to come together. It's just likely to take longer than initially expected."
The offensive line didn't have its best day, as Jackson was under pressure for much of the game.
"The offensive line returned four starters but it didn't look like it, and now it could be short-handed. The novelty of the new Ravens offense begged a lot of questions entering the season opener, but the offensive line didn't appear to be one of them," Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote. "Yet the Texans' defensive front gave this group fits. They frequently won one-on-one battles, collapsed the pocket and didn't let Lamar Jackson get into any rhythm, especially early. Jackson finished the first half 7-for-11 for 60 yards and one interception, and more than once he had to tuck the ball and run or otherwise get on the move to avoid pressure."
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "Pressure was the Ravens' real undoing in the first half, with almost every Houston blitz sending a free rusher into Jackson's personal space. He completed just one pass against these all-out attacks before halftime. A smattering of boos echoed across M&T Bank Stadium after their final drive of the half went kaput.
"They finally gained a foothold with a 71-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, mixing power runs with Jackson strikes to Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman. In those moments, we saw glimpses of what this offense could be, but the path could be jagged."
Flowers Hits the Ground Running
Flowers made a good first impression in his NFL debut. The 22nd-overall pick finished with a team-leading nine catches for 78 yards on 10 targets. He also had two carries for nine yards on jet sweeps.
"On a day when receiver Odell Beckham Jr., one of the most famous athletes in the world, made his return to football, it was Zay Flowers, the Ravens' prized first-round rookie receiver, who stole the spotlight," The Baltimore Banner’s Kris Rhim wrote. "Flowers did everything: caught passes, made defenders miss and took handoffs. The offense looked clunky and confused for most of the game in Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's new system, but Flowers was the anomaly. The Ravens have struggled to find productive first-round receivers, but in his first game Flowers showed they may have finally gotten one."
Concerns Over Pass Rush Quelled
There were concerns about the Ravens' pass rush – specifically from the edge – heading into the game, but Baltimore registered five sacks and got pressure from all over.
"It began immediately," Smolka wrote. "On the Texans' first possession, they opted to play for a first down on fourth-and-1. C.J. Stroud dropped back to throw but was flattened by inside linebacker Patrick Queen. Later in the game, inside linebacker Roquan Smith also dropped Stroud on the only snap of the game that the Texans took inside the Ravens' 10-yard line. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike also tracked down Stroud for a sack, and slot corner Ar'Darius Washington got in on the act with the first sack of his career. Late in the game, David Ojabo, playing in just his third career game, stripped Stroud and forced a fumble that was recovered by Michael Pierce.
"Harbaugh singled out Ojabo's strip-sack, implying that he both heard and took exception to criticism this summer that Ojabo had a quiet training camp. Ojabo, who thrived under Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald at Michigan, now has a strip-sack in two of his three career games. The Ravens will take that production all day."
Smith and Queen Show Why They Are Arguably NFL's Best Inside LInebacker Duo
Smith and Queen showed why they are arguably the best inside linebacker duo in the league. They combined for 27 tackles, two sacks, and two fourth-down stops.
"Perhaps it's difficult for pundits to project excellence for an NFL defense that's led by a pair of inside linebackers," Walker wrote. "Gone are the days when Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus were considered some of the most valuable players in the sport. We live in an age of pass rushers and coverage aces. But coordinator Mike Macdonald's defense transformed when Smith arrived via trade last October. The Pro Bowl linebacker is a pacesetter for everything the Ravens do in games and in practice. Queen, playing with fury as he makes his case for a rich second contract, is his worthy partner. You can't take your eyes off them as they hunt the ball on every play."