John Harbaugh: Stick With Joe Flacco Amidst Offense's 'Uncharted' Injuries


Head Coach John Harbaugh was on the field at Minnesota's glistening U.S. Bank Stadium as fans were spilling in, getting ready for a big game with a lot of energy.

Harbaugh looked over and saw wide receiver Griff Whalen, a journeyman who the Ravens cut at the end of the preseason but brought back just three days earlier because of a deluge of injuries.

"I see ol' Griff warming up [and I'm] like, 'Man, this guy was at Gold's Gym a couple days ago,' and here he is!" Harbaugh said Monday with a chuckle.

If that's how Harbaugh was feeling, think about what it's like for quarterback Joe Flacco. He's the guy on the field trying to make it work with a revolving door of pieces around him.

The stats aren't pretty. The Ravens offense is ranked 31st in the NFL, averaging 277.6 yards per game. Baltimore's passing offense is last in the league with 157.4 yards per game.

Flacco's 70.0 quarterback rating is 31st out of 32 passers, only beating out Cleveland Browns rookie DeShone Kizer. Flacco's on pace to throw for a career-low 2,717 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his eight interceptions put him on track for 18, which would be his second-highest career total (22 in 2013).

On Monday, Harbaugh was asked for an evaluation of how Flacco has played this season amidst a mass of injured weapons around him.

"I don't have my grade book with me, but Joe has done a great job through all of that. There's been a lot of adversity, and for the quarterback to shoulder that … Joe is mature, he's tough, he's tough-minded, and he just deals with it," Harbaugh said.

"There are going to be a lot of good times ahead for Joe Flacco. Stick with him. It's going to be fun to watch."

Look at what Flacco had around him in Minnesota.

After season-ending injuries to six-time Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda and second-year guard/tackle Alex Lewis, first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley is the only starter left from last year's offensive line.

At left guard, there's former undrafted rookie James Hurst, who is playing guard for the first time in his life. At center is sixth-rounder Ryan Jensen, who is a full-time starter for the first time in his fifth year. At right guard is third-string fifth-round rookie Jermaine Eluemunor, who is a London-born project thrust into action. At right tackle is former undrafted rookie and late veteran free-agent addition Austin Howard.

At running back, Terrance West, who began the year as the starter, is sidelined by a calf injury. Kenneth Dixon, who was a much-anticipated second-year talent, went down for the year with an offseason knee injury. Danny Woodhead, the hired gun to move the chains as a dynamic receiving threat, is on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury on the offense's first drive of the season.

That leaves Alex Collins, who was sitting on the open market after being released by the Seattle Seahawks, Javorius Allen and Bobby Rainey, who the Ravens brought back two weeks ago after releasing him earlier this year.

At tight end, Dennis Pitta's playing days ended with a third dislocated/fractured hip during a summer practice. Crockett Gillmore suffered a torn ACL in training camp. Darren Waller is suspended for the year. Maxx Williams (ankle) is injured again.

Coming off a torn Achilles, 36-year-old Benjamin Watson is second on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Behind him is blocking tight end Nick Boyle and Vince Mayle, a converted wide receiver.

Wide receiver was the most barren cupboard in Minnesota. Breshad Perriman was already out after suffering a concussion the week before. The Ravens were expecting Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) to play, but he was scratched just before the game and Mike Wallace (concussion) went to the sideline on the second series. That left Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore and Whalen as Flacco's wide receivers.

Whalen went from catching passes from former small-school college quarterbacks to playing 58 snaps for the Ravens just days later. He led the wide receivers with four catches in Minnesota.

Harbaugh called the Ravens' deluge of injuries "uncharted territory."

"I don't know how many teams have had this many injuries on offense," he said.

"It's about mental toughness. It's about just going out there, and you have to put everything aside and ignore the noise and go out there and fight. We have a bunch of guys that I know will do that. I'm looking forward to see how it plays out."

Flacco, for one, doesn't blink an eye. He didn't do it once again after a frustrating game in Minnesota.

"It may not be easy all the time, but that was never promised when you came into this league," Flacco said Monday. "If anything, you know it is going to be tough, and there are going to be tough stretches along the way."

Flacco said his most important job is to keep his teammates' heads up. Flacco is always confident in his ability as a quarterback. At the same time, he knows not all the offensive problems this year can be pinned on injuries. He characterized his play this season as full of "ups and downs."

"I have to be more consistent," Flacco said. "That is the name of this game. In order to win the majority of your games, you have to play consistent, and you still probably are going to lose a couple."

Behind a strong defense, impressive rushing attack and arguably the best kicker in the game, the Ravens were already going to reel in the passing game this season, and injuries have further impacted that. Last year, Flacco had the second-most passing attempts in the league (672). This year, he's on pace for 512.

"The way we are playing right now and the way we have played the last few weeks have been pretty conservatively. We are probably not going to go out there and put up 40 points," Flacco said.

"We have to be able to count on everybody, including myself – mostly myself – in crunch time to make big plays on third down and things like that to keep the chains moving."

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