Quarterback Drama Continues Despite Bye Week
I bet most Ravens fans expected there to be little news surrounding their team this weekend. With Baltimore having its bye this week, the expectation was that this past weekend would be a low-key one.
That changed Friday afternoon when it was reported by The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec that quarterback Joe Flacco is battling a hip injury he sustained in the first quarter of the Pittsburgh game. Flacco played through the injury, finishing with 209 passing yards as he completed 23 of 27 passes.
The severity of the injury has not been made clear, nor has the team even confirmed the injury exists. But, if the reports are true, it would appear there is a chance that Flacco could miss this week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, as well as others. If Flacco can't play, that would mean either rookie Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III would start.
As NFL.com’s Austin Knoblauch put it, "At this point, the Ravens are in wait-and-see mode when it comes to the injury."
"Of course, if Flacco is able to practice Wednesday, it's probably a good bet he is going to play," NFL.com's Ian Rapoport said. "But they do not know if he'll be able to practice. And also, the Ravens are kind of relishing the uncertainty with their QB situation -- what opponents will have to prepare for."
Indeed, there is an element of mystery the Ravens have on their side right now that they'll want to take advantage of this week.
Throughout this whole season, opposing defenses have had to spend time each week focusing on what to do when Jackson comes into games, not knowing when and how often he'll be on the field. That uncertainty has been multiplied this week, as the Bengals currently don't know which quarterback will be under center for the majority of Sunday's game.
As of now, there's still every chance Flacco will play on Sunday. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported "The Baltimore Ravens still are awaiting answers from doctors on how much time, if any, quarterback Joe Flacco will miss." Schefter also went on to write that a source told him "if the Super Bowl were next week, he believes Flacco could play."
It certainly wouldn't be surprising if Flacco suits up against Cincinnati. He's only missed six games over his 11 professional seasons, all after he tore his ACL in 2015, with Schefter writing "Durability has been one of Flacco's strengths."
If Flacco is unable to play, a good number of pundits think the Ravens will give Jackson his first NFL start. Given Jackson's unique skillset, as well as having extra time to prep for the Cincinnati game due to the bye, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens offense operate differently if the rookie starts.
"It has not gone unnoticed in Baltimore how several teams around the NFL are having success with young and/or limited quarterbacks by getting creative with their approach to [run-pass options] … and to this point Baltimore's offense has been off kilter at times," La Canfora wrote. "Opposing teams know that to this point, when Jackson is on the field it is almost always a running play, and they are keying on that, with Flacco flanked out as a non-factor 'wide receiver.' Things may open up more with an actual pass catcher on the field instead."
PressBox’s Bo Smolka highlighted three different ways the offense could change with Jackson under center, including "More shorter throws to [wide receiver] Willie Snead, fewer throws downfield to [wide receiver] John Brown."
"Expect Jackson to concentrate on shorter and more intermediate throws and rely on receivers to make yardage after the catch," Smolka wrote.
There's also a contingent that believes the Ravens could start Griffin. He hasn't played in a game since the preseason, but the Ravens have kept Griffin on their 53-man roster throughout this season. They also did not trade him despite the rumored interest from around the NFL.
Surely, this is the sort of situation that they envisioned where having Griffin would be useful.
"Griffin performed well during the preseason and while Jackson did improve from game-to-game, it doesn't change the fact that Jackson is still a work in progress at the moment. The Ravens can't afford to have him making rookie mistakes when they're 4-5 and desperately trying to remain relevant in the playoff picture," RavensWire’s Chuck Mills wrote. "Griffin is the more experienced option here and even if his ceiling isn't as high as Jackson's might be, he's also not going to go through the same struggles that a rookie typically goes through."
Lots of Tinfoil Hats Being Worn Around Baltimore
Adding to the craziness of Baltimore's quarterback situation are the multiple theories people have come up with about it.
One such theory started when a caller phoned into 105.7's The Fan this past Friday claiming to have seen Flacco on crutches around Baltimore. There's certainly a chance this caller saw Flacco, or a guy who looks like him but there hasn't been any indication from the Ravens organization that this is true.
As Russell Street Report’s Michael Telford put it, "You cannot put stock in callers, fans, or random Twitter folk saying things like this."
"Reliable people will have this news before callers and random accounts," Telford wrote. "Don't buy into it, and potentially create an unnecessary panic."
Another conspiracy theory that's gotten some traction is that the hip injury is made-up to make the switch from Flacco to Jackson less controversial. As Zrebiec noted, "The injury comes at a time where the Ravens have lost three consecutive games heading into their bye week and the calls for Jackson to take over as the starting quarterback have intensified."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week that he'd "like to see [Jackson] out there more and find ways to get him on the field more." However, Harbaugh also said "Joe has played well, so I don't want to get into all of that. We're rolling right now with what we have."
Zrebiec, and many others, disputed the idea of the Ravens faking Flacco's injury to hand the reigns over to Lamar.
"With the dumb conspiracy theories suggesting a fake injury for Flacco — despite numerous people observing a leg issue early in the Pittsburgh game — as an excuse for the Ravens to start Jackson, is it any wonder grocery stores in the greater Baltimore area were all out of tinfoil?" WNST’s Luke Jones asked.
For now, fans will have to settle for monitoring the situation until more info comes out. And try your best to not buy into the rumors, conspiracy theories or wear tinfoil hats.
Can the Defense Carry the Ravens to Postseason?
The Ravens defense endured three frustrating performances against the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers before the bye. Before that streak of games, the defense was considered by many to be the best in the league, allowing just 12.8 points per game. During those three losses, the Ravens gave up 27.6 points per game.
Still, the Ravens sit second in both points per game allowed (17.8) and yards per game allowed (305), and The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker thinks the defense could carry the team towards a potential postseason berth.
"Given the piles of points the Steelers and New Orleans Saints put up in subsequent games, the Ravens' efforts against them don't look so shabby," Walker wrote. "There's still plenty of talent on all three levels of the Baltimore defense, and Harbaugh hopes two weeks of rest will bring his players back to full speed."
Indeed, the Steelers and Saints, dynamic offenses that the defense kept relatively in check, have both been on fire since playing the Ravens. The Saints have scored a combined 126 points over their three games since the Ravens held them to 24 points, including putting up 51 on the road against the Bengals yesterday. Pittsburgh meanwhile, scored 52 points against the Panthers this past Thursday, which is more than the 37 points the Ravens gave up against them in two games.
The final push begins against the Bengals this Sunday, who are expected to be without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. It's a major loss for Cincinnati considering Green scored three touchdowns in the teams' Week 2 contest. In his first game without Green this season, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 153 yards against the Saints.
The Ravens still have plenty of other top-tier offenses on the schedule though, including Kansas City, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Chargers. As Walker put it, "if three straight losses taught us anything, it's that even a league-leading defense will struggle to control the best offenses of this NFL era."
While Walker's point is legit, the Ravens have also showed an ability to limit those teams more than they're used to. If the offense is able to put up points, a defense-led charge is not out of the question.
Offseason Free Agent Targets
Ebony Bird’s Matthew Deinlein looked ahead to the offseason and outlined three potential free agents the Ravens could acquire. Deinlein opted to look at players that are more under the radar, rather than big names that should become available.
C Matt Paradis: A current Denver Bronco, Paradis is anchoring an offensive line that is leading the way for one of the NFL's best rushing attacks. The Broncos are tied for the best yards per carry average (5.2) in the NFL, and Paradis has played a big role in that. Deinlein predicts Paradis will make around $11 million per year, but also thinks he'd be worth it.
"Paradis is a little smaller, but he's quick enough to wall off defenders in the run," Deinlein wrote. "The [run-pass options] that I expect with Lamar [Jackson] would be easier with more athletic linemen that can wall off holes well. Paradis would improve the options in pass blocking and making holes for the runner."
S Tre Boston: With safety Eric Weddle turning 34 next year, Deinlein thinks it would be smart for the Ravens to look into acquiring Boston, who has hauled in three interceptions in six games this season for the Arizona Cardinals. Deinlein believes Boston and safety Tony Jefferson, a former Cardinals safety, would form a fearsome tandem.
"Boston and Jefferson would be a classic, fun to watch, safety combo," Deinlein wrote. "Jefferson is the run defender, hitter type, while Boston is a ball hawk, lurker type."
LB Bryce Hager: Deinlein admits that Hager's stats don't jump out to you with just seven tackles this season, but he thinks the current Los Angeles Ram could be the next diamond in the rough the Ravens find to play linebacker. Hager has predominately played special teams for the Rams this year, but he has nice speed (4.6 40-yard dash time), and Deinlein thinks he could help tremendously in pass coverage.
"The Ravens need this speed in the defense and can get him for pretty cheap," Deinlein wrote. "At most he's getting two million a year and that isn't something the Ravens should pass up."
- There's no doubt the Ravens Flock was doing some scoreboard watching yesterday. Baltimore's postseason chances weren't aided by Tennessee upsetting New England, but both Cincinnati and Miami losing tremendously helped the Ravens.
- Saints wide receiver Dez Bryant, a free agent target of the Ravens this past offseason, tore his Achilles during his first practice with his new team on Friday, and is reportedly unable to play for the rest of the season.