Change Could Be Coming to the Offensive Line
A lot of pundits believe Baltimore's offensive line struggled against Cincinnati in last Thursday's 34-23 defeat to the Bengals.
The unit allowed four sacks and eight quarterback hits as quarterback Joe Flacco operated much of the night without a clean pocket. The run game struggled as well, as the Ravens averaged just three yards per carry.
"Flacco wasn't helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front," WNST’s Luke Jones wrote. "This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap."
"It's becoming concerning and if they can't keep Flacco stable in the pocket it's going to be a long season," Russell Street Report’s Cole Jackson wrote.
Atkins and Dunlap are both excellent players, but the offensive line could've done a better job against them.
Though Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick wasn't amazed by the offensive line's performance against Cincinnati, he doesn't think it was as poor as other analysts are making it out to be.
"When I sat down to score it, I expected more pressure and some extreme results on the line in particular," McKusick wrote. "What I saw was a middle-of-the-road performance from most angles without any truly extreme results."
Now, regardless of how its performance has been viewed by pundits, the offensive line could be in for a shake-up.
It remains to be seen if Baltimore will sign any of the linemen it reportedly tried out, but the fact that the team is holding workouts shows it's trying to address the perceived issues along the offensive line. And even if the Ravens don't keep any of the free-agent linemen they hosted, there are internal changes they could consider.
One position that could see a change is right tackle. For much of the offseason, veteran James Hurst and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. competed for the starting job. Hurst ultimately got the gig, though Brown has done well when on the field.
"Brown Jr. is a larger and sturdier offensive tackle with natural talent," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "He looked great in college and he was impressive in the preseason. If nothing else, starting Brown Jr. would help the Ravens run the ball to the right."
Brown also looked good against the Bengals. When Stanley left the game with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter, Hurst was moved to left tackle, and Brown was inserted on the right side. Pro Football Focus gave Brown a 0.8 score, which put him in the top five for Ravens offensive players.
McKusick didn't give Brown a score because he only played 12 snaps, but thought he did well during his brief cameo. On Hurst, McKusick felt he had a solid game, giving him a B- score, which trailed only Yanda. Hurst is also the only lineman that McKusick had improving from Week 1.
"James slightly improved on a solid performance in Week 1," McKusick wrote. "Facing Ravens nemesis Carlos Dunlap, he surrendered portions of seven pressure events, including a pressure on Flacco's first interception. He made six blocks in level two and had a pancake."
Though the right tackle battle has gotten plenty of attention, it looks like the Ravens are primarily looking at different options for the interior line positions. Of the 10 linemen reportedly brought in for Saturday's tryout, nine of them were guards or centers.
McKusick believes center Matt Skura had the most difficult time on Thursday, giving him a D, which was tied for the lowest grade of all the offensive linemen with Stanley. ESPN also wrote that "center was the biggest question mark in the Ravens starting lineup."
On Saturday, the Ravens reportedly looked at three free agent centers: Hroniss Grasu, T.J. Johnson and Wesley Johnson. The Ravens could also consider rookie center Bradley Bozeman, who improved throughout the preseason.
Though change could be coming for the unit, McKusick feels the reaction to the offensive line's performance against Cincinnati is a bit extreme. After a strong showing in Week 1, the group had a difficult matchup on the road during a short week.
As McKusick put it, sometimes after a disappointing loss people "have a need to find a grand (and quickly repairable) explanation for any loss."
"That's the reason why the backup QB is often the most popular player in town," McKusick wrote. "However, in terms of the Ravens offense, this was simply a slightly-below average performance."
Should the Ravens Pursue Josh Gordon?
The football world got some surprising news Saturday night when it was announced that the Cleveland Browns plan to release star wide receiver Josh Gordon today.
Gordon is supremely talented, averaging 75.8 yards per game and scoring 16 touchdowns in 41 career games. His best season came in 2013, when he was named to the Pro Bowl with a league-leading 1,646 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Gordon has done well on the field, but his issue has been being able to remain eligible. He's played in just 11 games since 2014. Gordon was suspended for the entire 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He missed the 2016 season due to suspension and entered a rehabilitation center. The NFL reinstated him in Week 13 last season.
Gordon played in Cleveland's first game of the season, scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he reportedly injured his hamstring, showed up late to the team facility and was "not himself, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, which led to Cleveland wanting to sever ties with him.
There are a couple different scenarios that could play out with Gordon. NFL insiders believe teams are looking into trading for Gordon, but there's also a chance he'll just be released and become a free agent. Either way, there is now a question facing the other 31 NFL teams – should they make a play?
When the news about the release broke, ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi immediately predicted Gordon would next be seen in purple and black.
That's a pundit with a pretty good knowledge of the situation, so having him say that Baltimore is his likeliest destination is significant. Twelve minutes later, however, Grossi amended his prediction.
RavensWire’s Wola Odeniran considered the Gordon situation for the Ravens, and believes the team should look into signing him, even if it needs to perform a trade.
"Baltimore should be interested [in] targeting Gordon depending on the price," Odeniran wrote. "Given the off the field issues Gordon has had over the last six years, the Browns are not in any position to demand a hefty return in a trade."
Though looking into a trade for Gordon isn't a bad idea, it probably isn't very likely because of Cleveland being in the AFC North – odds are the Browns aren't looking to trade with a division rival.
That leaves the scenario of if Gordon becomes a free agent.
One issue is that it may not be an immediate need for the Ravens currently, considering the trio of new wide receivers acquired through free agency – Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – have all gotten off to strong starts in Baltimore. That hasn't deterred Odeniran though, who wrote "having a crowded depth chart at receiver should be the least of Baltimore's problems."
"If the price is right, whether it's free agency or via trade, Baltimore should definitely make a call," Odeniran wrote.
A Lot Being Made About the Running Game
One of the criticisms that pundits had after the Ravens' loss Thursday night was the team's approach to running the ball. Baltimore tried to pass the ball 59 times, while running it just 22 times, which Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich viewed as being "not fully committed to the running game."
WNST’s Luke Jones didn't believe the ratio is an issue, considering the Ravens fell behind by 21 points early in the second quarter.
"The Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big," Jones wrote. "But Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half."
Indeed, the game did not favor a heavy dose of running the ball, but Collins still managed to be effective. He gained 90 yards of total offense on 12 touches, which included three catches for 55 yards. He was one of the Ravens' top playmakers in the game, routinely running hard, juking defenders and gaining plenty of yardage after getting the ball in his hands.
"Shouldn't the Ravens have gotten their top running back, Alex Collins, who clearly was their most dangerous player, more than 12 total touches?" The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec asked.
One issue some analysts seem to have is the Ravens evenly splitting Collins' and Allen's snaps, as both were on the field for 42 plays on Thursday. Jones wrote, "Buck Allen shouldn't be matching Collins in snaps," while Russell Street Report’s Derek Arnold commented "Far too much Buck Allen, far too little Alex Collins."
In Allen's defense, he had a solid day as a pass catcher, hauling in five passes for 36 yards. Allen is also a superb blocker, and with the Ravens passing as much as they did, it helped having him on the field to give Flacco more time to throw. He also hasn't fumbled this year, which Collins did in Week 1.
With running back Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve, Allen is expected to get more touches than usual. As The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer pointed out, Allen "has long been regarded as the team's most reliable receiver out of the backfield, [and] an important weapon on third down."
But there's no denying though that Collins was more productive with the ball in his hands, averaging 7.5 yards per touch to Allen's four.
"Their usage will hinge on the offense's continued evolution and opposing defenses' approach to stopping them," Shaffer wrote.
Marshal Yanda Opens Up to Peter King
Despite turning 34 this past Saturday, right guard Marshal Yanda remains one of the top linemen in the NFL.
A big reason for that has been Yanda thinking more about his health as he gets older. He spoke with NBC Sports’ Peter King about that, and a variety of topics, for King's weekly Football Morning in America article. Yanda has even gotten going on the kale craze, though he called it "ruthless."
"I'm into quinoa now for my carbs," Yanda said. "So I'll eat quinoa, and my protein is chicken, and then I use a Vitamix blender and I blend up spinach and kale for my vegetables."
Yanda is also not a night owl, saying he's asleep by 9:30 most nights because of the importance of staying on schedule.
"Sleep is huge. Sleep is my P.E.D., my performance-enhancing drug," Yanda said.
And for those of you who enjoy yoga, don't be surprised if Yanda shows up to one of your classes with a mat. He's gotten into the exercise to improve his flexibility, and to help with his pain management.
Yanda also divulged that he was worried about getting cut during his first Ravens training camp, despite being a third-round pick. That motivation led to him being focused on improving, and not allowing himself to peak.
"I kept getting better as the years went by," Yanda said. "I've achieved stuff I never knew I could – Pro Bowl, all-pro – but I didn't think about that stuff. I took care of today. I took care of the weights. I took care of practice. I took care of watching film."
Ravens Reportedly Bringing Back Albert McClellan
Zrebiec reported this morning that the Ravens are set to bring back inside linebacker and special teams contributor Albert McClellan.
McClellan was cut on Sept. 1 after being with the Ravens since 2010. He could provide cover at inside linebacker and contribute on special teams. McClellan is also a favorite of Baltimore's coaching staff, and would be able to fit seamlessly into the team's plans.
This is a move that Zrebiec predicted could happen after inside linebacker C.J. Mosley left Thursday's game with a bruised knee. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday that it "doesn't look to be long term," but it hasn't been made clear how much time he'll miss.
Behind Mosley, the Ravens are inexperienced at inside linebacker with third-year Patrick Onwuasor, and rookies Kenny Young and Chris Board.