Joe Flacco's Injury Not Surprising Behind Banged-Up Line, But Good News Coming
The Ravens went 3-0 to start the season behind their regular starting offensive line. During that time, quarterback Joe Flacco was pressured 30 times (NFL's 10th most), per ESPN.
The team went 0-3 the last three games behind a makeshift offensive line, as three starters fell victim to injury. Only center Jeremy Zuttah has started all six games at his normal position, leading to Flacco being pressured 52 times – the most in the NFL the last three weeks.
It all came to a head Sunday when Flacco suffered an injury to his right throwing shoulder.
"No one should have been surprised," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "It was only a matter of time for Flacco to become a 6-foot-6 punching bag behind an offensive line that moved around blockers on a weekly basis.
"Even the most durable quarterback – Flacco holds the fifth-longest consecutive-games streak in NFL history – couldn't go unscathed behind a line that has undergone four different starting combinations this season. That's the second-most in the league behind the Cleveland Browns (five)."
That's why nobody is downplaying the encouraging signs we saw Wednesday afternoon when both starting tackles were at practice. Sixth-overall pick and starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley was a full participant for the first time since Week 3. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner wasn't even listed on the injury report.
There's a "good chance" both will play against the New York Jets, tweeted The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
If that's the case, rookie Alex Lewis can move back to his normal left guard position.
It sure would be nice to get the NFL's best guard in Marshal Yanda back out there, which Harbaugh said would be a "stretch" this week, but having just one starter out of place instead of four is certainly a step in the right direction.
"[T]he offensive line is fortunately trending in the right direction," wrote WNST's Luke Jones.
"It's no secret that Flacco has taken a beating over the last few weeks, so improved pass protection would make Harbaugh and the Ravens feel better about playing him with a tender shoulder on Sunday. It would also help if top receiver Steve Smith can return from an ankle injury. … Even at age 37, Smith still represents the most reliable pass-catching target that the Ravens have."
Outside of that, fans can only hope that Flacco wasn't downplaying his injury when he said "it's nothing to worry about." He wanted a day's rest Wednesday, then will try to get back out there Thursday to see if that did the trick.
As Jones wrote, maybe this ends up being nothing more than a "midweek footnote." Wouldn't that be nice?
But let's be real. Even Flacco said that if he plays, it won't be about tolerating the pain. It will about being able to throw the ball accurately and efficiently. If he can't, the starting nod will go to backup Ryan Mallett.
Whether it's Flacco or Mallett under center, either would be happy to know the offensive line is getting healthier. They will need it as healthy as possible as the Ravens try to stop a three-game losing skid before a much-needed bye to allow bodies to heal.
"A Week 7 win is a must after losing three straight," wrote Jones. "Even at full strength, this roster needing to go 7-2 after the bye just to finish with a 10-6 record — which isn't always guaranteed to land a playoff spot — would be an extremely difficult task."
Practice Return of Jimmy Smith Is Another Encouraging Sign … And It's A Big One
Look, there's not a lot to like when you look at the Ravens' Wednesday injury report.
It's not good when this many starters are missing: wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), returner Devin Hester (thigh), right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), outside linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and cornerbacks Shareece Wright (thigh) and Jerraud Powers (thigh).
But one defender the Ravens can't seem to live without (other than Suggs), is cornerback Jimmy Smith. And Smith was out there Wednesday as a limited participant with a red non-contact jersey after being knocked out of the second half of the Giants game with a concussion.
"His limited participation would mean he's reached the penultimate step in the concussion protocol before being cleared to return to full action," wrote Jones.
When Smith was playing in the first half last week, the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. had just 11 receiving yards. When Smith was out in the second half, Beckham went off for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
"The Ravens could certainly use Smith against Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall," wrote The Sun's Edward Lee. "The 6-foot-2, 210-pound cornerback has the size and skills to match up with the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall, who ranks 13th in the league in receiving yards (433) and has scored twice."
Despite Projected 4-6 Week Recovery, Big Ben Aiming For Return Against Ravens
Flacco's injury wasn't the only big quarterback news in the NFL Wednesday. We received updates on two other signal callers, and both will affect the Ravens.
First, the Jets officially announced Geno Smith will take over as quarterback when they host Baltimore at MetLife Stadium Sunday. Head Coach John Harbaugh says it won't change his team's preparation much.
Second, it was reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen that it will take Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four to six weeks to recover from the knee surgery he underwent Monday. Four weeks would put his return after the Ravens game, but it doesn't look like Big Ben wants to miss the AFC North showdown.
"Roethlisberger plans on missing just the New England game at Heinz Field. He hopes to be back after the team's bye Oct. 30 to play in Baltimore Nov. 6 against the Ravens," reported Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook.
"But he knows that might be impractical because he's 34 and because of his medical history."
Ravens' Chances Of Top-10 Draft Pick Better Than Reaching Playoffs
It's only October and the Ravens are already being mentioned in the same sentence "top-10 draft pick."
According to ESPN analytics, Baltimore has twice as good a chance of picking in the top 10 of this year's draft (38.9 percent) than advancing to the playoffs (19.1). Ugh, again.
"Of their 10 remaining games, the Ravens are only favored to win three: home against the Cleveland Browns (Week 10), home against the Cincinnati Bengals(Week 12) and home against the Miami Dolphins (Week 13)," wrote Hensley.
Ravens Receiving Corps Ranked No. 28
Before the season started, Pro Football Focus had the Ravens receiving corps ranked as the 11th best in the league.
Six weeks in, the unit has fallen to No. 28. Only the Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers are worse, says PFF.
"Of any team, the Ravens were probably the most difficult for me to pin down in these rankings," wrote Mike Renner.
"Mike Wallace is a wideout that needs two other quality receivers to take pressure off him and a quarterback that can hit deep for him to excel – and they're close to having that in Baltimore. Steve Smith can't play every snap anymore, but when he is on the field, he still has the 14th best yards-per-route-run mark in the NFL. The problem is the next two guys. Kamar Aiken stepped up big after Smith went down a season ago, but he's since disappeared with the 101st-best yards-per-route-run metric in the NFL. And Breshad Perriman hasn't been living up to his draft status now that he's finally healthy, hauling in only 46.4 percent of his targets on the year."