Ravens Won't Blink. Four Ways Baltimore Can Absorb Mashal Yanda Injury
The Ravens Flock was on cloud nine, but it didn't last long.
The Ravens had just notched a decisive 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns* *to get a 2-0 start, not only on the season, but in the division. The defense notched five turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history. Quarterback Joe Flacco looked healthy and was zipping passes all over the field. The offense was balanced.
And then the post-game press conference came and Head Coach John Harbaugh announced that All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda is done for the season because of an ankle fracture.
The party was cut short.
"Marshal Yanda's one of the best guards in the game, and the Ravens' best offensive lineman by far," wrote TheMMQB.com's Peter King. "His broken leg will be a crippling blow to a struggling offense."
The news continues a challenging injury streak in Baltimore, as Yanda and undrafted rookie linebacker Bam Bradley (torn ACL) are both expected to be placed on injured reserve, bringing the count to 15 before Week 3.
I was asked on Twitter if I'm sad about the Yanda news.
Of course everyone in Baltimore wants Yanda out there. He's a six-time Pro Bowler and the impact of his loss will no doubt be felt. But there's no time to be sad or "lament" his loss, as Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game.
What else are the Ravens supposed to do? They have to move forward without blinking.
"No one can replace Marshal Yanda — no one person," Harbaugh said. "Everyone is going to have to collectively raise their effort level, their execution level to make up for the loss of a player like Marshal."
So instead of replacing Yanda, here are four ways from around the web how the Ravens can try to absorb his loss.
1) It starts with Tony Bergstrom, but don't expect him to be Yanda.
Bergstrom, who came in at right guard after Yanda went down, has four career starts in his six-year career. Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowler, started his 135th game Sunday.
"The chances he'll be as good as Yanda are nonexistent, because no one's as good as Yanda," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker.
That's true, and it'd be unfair to put those expectations on Bergstrom. But perhaps there is some solace to take in the fact that Baltimore rushed for 69 yards on 20 carries in the second half after Yanda was hurt on the first play in the third quarter.
"We traded for [Bergstrom] for a reason, and our scouts believed in him. It looks like a good trade," Harbaugh said after the game.
2) The defense, which has already been spectacular, may need to take on an even heavier load.
As good as the defense has looked, the unit was more opportunistic than dominant against the Browns, which means there's room for growth. Veterans including Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle were quick to downplay their five-turnover day because of mistakes and big plays.
"Fair or not, that 'everyone' [that needs to fill in for Yanda] will include a defense that's already been rather spectacular," Jones wrote. "Filling that colossal void won't be easy, putting more pressure on the defense to continue playing at an elite level in the meantime.
"The competition will get tougher in the coming weeks, but this Ravens defense looks like it can be special. It will need to be with the offense now forced to find its new footing after losing the best guard in football."
3) Flacco needs to continue the progress we saw from Week 1 to Week 2.
"Flacco was a whole different player in Week 2," wrote Walker. "Gone was the tentative quarterback we saw in the season opener."
Flacco was moving around and rolling out of the pocket, hitting receivers on the run. He threw for two touchdowns and 217 yards with one interception that he says was his fault because he was impatient. He seemed to find a groove with tight end Benjamin Watson, who is back after Achilles surgery and notched 91 yards on eight catches.
"Give Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg credit for calling a creative first half," Walker wrote. "But Flacco still had to make the throws, and he zipped the ball into tight spaces in a way he simply had not against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"If Flacco plays this well most weeks, the Ravens will happily take it."
4) Don't look now, but the Ravens' rushing attack ranks third in the league. Can they keep it up without Yanda?
Through two weeks of the season, Baltimore has the third-best running attack, averaging 146.5 rushing yards per game. And as I noted earlier, 69 of those yards came without Yanda in the second half.
Gaining early leads in the first half has allowed Mornhinweg to remain committed to the run in the second half, but give the offense credit after talking all offseason about improving it. What's also comforting is knowing the Ravens have gotten to that mark despite losing Danny Woodhead on the team's opening drive of the season. They also lost second-year running back Kenneth Dixon to a season-ending knee injury this summer.
That success has been, in part, due to Buck Allen.
"Allen is taking full advantage of Danny Woodhead's absence," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy. "Clearly, the Ravens were going with the hot-hand approach this game and no 'hand' was hotter than Buck's. He was consistently breaking tackles and getting first downs.
"It was an eye-opening performance from Buck. Even when Woodhead returns, Buck will still have a big role in this offense."
Can Defense Sustain Its Turnover Rate?
That's why it's creating Ravens history when Baltimore has had some pretty good defenses in the past.
For the first time in franchise history, the Ravens notched five turnovers in consecutive games. The 2017 unit has as many turnovers (10) as points allowed, and it became the third team since the 1970 merger to record four or more interceptions in its first two games.
"But here's the rub: High turnover margins are notoriously unpredictable," Walker wrote. "So it's possible that all these interceptions and fumble recoveries are giving us a slightly unrealistic view of how good this defense is."
Walker cited both Football Outsiders and Harvard researchers who studied how much luck plays into creating turnovers, and, essentially, the findings show that luck is huge.
"This in no way denigrates what Ravens defenders have done in the first two games," Walker wrote. "They've made some terrific individual plays at opportune moments. It's just to say that if history is any guide, even an excellent defense can't count on doing that every week."
Brandon Carr: Secret to Defense = Contagious Pride
Turns out, the Ravens were thinking of drafting ultra-durable cornerback Brandon Carr in 2008. He said his "heart was pounding and palms were sweating" when he was on the phone with the team.
It didn't work out, but 10 seasons later, the two are together, and it's working out quite nicely so far. Carr has notched two interceptions in his first two games as a Raven. And then there was this from yesterday.
Carr has been impressed with the camaraderie the team as a whole has shown since the day he arrived.
"From the outside looking in, I would hear about the defense's dominance and Raven Pride," Carr told The Sporting News' Alex Marvez. "But until you actually step foot in here … From Day 1, I've gotten that feeling of guys who take pride in having their positions and what defense means for this club.
"That feeling is very contagious around the locker room. We just need to keep our heads down, stay humble and stay hungry."