Just As Offensive Excitement Ramps Up, Concerning Injuries Start To Snowball
We were reminded Wednesday that managing an NFL team is a constant juggling act.
It was clear* *from press conferences and locker room interviews that, while Ravens offensive players didn't like to see a man lose his job, they are excited about Marty Mornhinweg becoming the new offensive coordinator. The energy from the unit was palpable.
Tight end Dennis Pitta said the offense was in a "bad place" and the change was needed. As the quarterback, Joe Flacco felt partly responsible for Marc Trestman's dismissal, but talked about how much he likes Mornhinweg's confidence and his ability to give everyone a clear outlook on the game plan. Wide receiver Kamar Aiken talked about the new enthusiasm.
But just as the offensive excitement was ramping up, some not-so-good-news came in the form of the injury report. About one-third of the offense's starters missed practice Wednesday, which means if the Ravens are going to prove they made the right move with Trestman, they may have to do it with several backups.
"Yikes" is right, especially if the starters don't return for the New York Giants game. Below is the list of players who missed practice Wednesday, and media speculation on their status for Sunday.
T Ronnie Stanley (foot)
T Rick Wagner (thigh)
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
The fact that Baltimore signed guard Vladimir Ducasse and claimed guard Billy Turner off waivers Wednesday is not a good sign. "It's a hint that Ravens O-line is in total disarray," tweeted former CBS Baltimore reporter Samuel Njoku.
Stanley told media he could play Sunday, but he "said that last week too," The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec tweeted. Stanley has missed two straight games.
Yanda has been known to fight through painful injuries in the past, but his status isn't looking good, according to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.
UPDATE: Stanley returned to practice Thursday, but neither Yanda nor Wagner participated.
WR Steve Smith Sr. (ankle)
WR Mike Wallace (chest) – limited participation in red contact jersey
There aren't as many injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but the players in question are critical to success, especially the Ravens' MIKE linebacker.
LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)
LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)
CB Shareece Wright (back) – limited participation and Harbaugh said he should be back
Dumervil's reappearance on the injury report "has to be a concern after quiet performances in his first two games since making his return from offseason foot surgery," added Jones.
Joe Flacco Ranked As 19th Best QB; How To Turn That Around
It's no surprise that Flacco is ranked as a below-average quarterback five weeks into the season considering how badly the Ravens offense has struggled.
Steve Palazzolo used a combination of this season's Pro Football Focus grades and historical data to come up with NFL quarterback rankings, and Flacco comes in at No. 19 (his overall PFF grade is ranked No. 15).
"While he often gets touted for a big arm and great deep ball, Joe Flacco is posting his best grades in the short-passing game; meanwhile, his deep grade is among the league's worst," wrote Palazzolo.
One of the top priorities for Mornhinweg will be to expand beyond the pass-happy dink-and-dunk offense we've seen so far, and install an offensive game plan that better suits Flacco and his complementary rushers to help open up play action and the deep passing game.
The Ringer's Danny Kelly went through a detailed plan on how things can be quickly changed on offense without installing wholesale changes. The summary is basically this:
"The run game needs to be Baltimore's fastball and the deep-passing game should be its curveball, while a tight end– and fullback-heavy midrange passing attack can be its changeup," wrote Kelly.
"With a renewed focus on the ground game — and the benefits of more eight-man boxes and a stronger effect of play-action fakes that come with it — Mornhinweg's crew could surprise some people over the next few weeks. The personnel is there to run the distinctive smashmouth, throw-it-deep style that Harbaugh has always wanted in Baltimore."
Given how dominant the defense has played so far – it's the NFL's No. 3-ranked unit – Kelly believes even marginal improvements in the offense can make all the difference in the world and put Baltimore on the map as a legitimate AFC contender.
"If they can just commit to the run game and remember how to throw the ball deep, 2016 Marty Ball could have the Ravens back in the playoffs," Kelly wrote.
Devin Hester Looking Like 2014 Jacoby Jones?
One of the reasons Baltimore* *signed returner Devin Hester was to bring a veteran decision-maker to the unit that could secure the ball. Then, if he could threaten to break one every now and then, that would also be a welcomed sight.
But Hester fumbled in two consecutive games – recovering one of them – and didn't field two fourth-quarter punts last week that cost the offense field position.
"Hester is a future Hall of Famer, so I don't say this lightly, but he doesn't seem to be playing with much confidence," wrote Zrebiec. "Can the Ravens afford to keep running him out there when field position or possession in general is so precious for a struggling offense?"
"Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester?" asked Luke Jones.
Jacoby was one of the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII heroes, scoring two touchdowns in the victory, including a 108-yard kickoff return. But, Jones quickly tapered off after that and the Ravens cut him after a tough 2014 season. Jones went on to play for both the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers last year, but hasn't found a roster spot this season.
We Could See More Kamalei Correa And Matthew Judon This Week
If reporters are correct in predicting that Mosley will miss this week's matchup (and maybe more), the Ravens could rely on a pair of rookies to make up for his loss.
The idea is for Albert McClellan, who has been a starting outside linebacker, to move into Mosley's spot, which would give more opportunities for Matthew Judon and Kamalei Correa.
"The Ravens would need Judon as an extra outside linebacker in McClellan's spot, and they'd probably want Correa as another option both outside and inside," wrote Zrebiec.
"Correa appeared to have a difficult week of practice last week and he seemed to get an encouraging pep talk from Owner Steve Bisciotti on the field after one of the workouts. He then was a healthy scratch for the first time. This is a big week of practice for him."