The Ravens mixed up their running back corps Sunday in Denver, deactivating Ty'Son Williams and bringing Le'Veon Bell up from the practice squad. It was an opportunity to see what the veterans, who were all added via free agency, could do with a full game's worth of work.
Latavius Murray still saw the majority of the action, playing 45 offensive snaps to Bell's 20. Devonta Freeman got six snaps.
None of them broke out, as Murray rushed for 59 yards on 18 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown for the Ravens' first points of the game, Bell had 11 yards on four carries and Freeman had one rush for four yards.
Even leading rusher Lamar Jackson (seven carries, 28 yards) was limited by a Broncos defensive front dead-set on stopping him and Baltimore's ground game. The Ravens capitalized by gashing Denver through the air, but it was tough sledding for the ground attack.
After reviewing the film on Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked if the game provided any clarity on how the Ravens want to divvy up snaps among their running backs.
"The clarity is that they all can play," he said. "That's probably as clear as we are, right now. So, we just have to figure out how they fit together with what we're doing offensively. We're happy with all of those guys, and we'll see as we go."
Harbaugh said Murray made the most of his opportunities and was pleased with what he saw from Bell, who was making his Ravens debut, in pass protection.
"[He made] a couple really good blocks in there and made a couple nice cuts," Harbaugh said. "He got hit in the backfield one time, spun out. Speaking of player safety, getting grabbed and his head twisted – that was one for player safety. But he made a couple guys miss. I thought he did well."
Derek Wolfe Needs Time to Get Back in Football Shape
Defensive end Derek Wolfe has been dealing with a back injury since the Ravens' joint practices in Carolina in August. Now he'll be out for a little while longer.
The Ravens placed Wolfe on injured reserve over the weekend, meaning he'll miss a minimum of two more games. The Ravens have their bye in Week 8, which could give Wolfe more time to rehab and get ready to play.
"He had the back stiffness, tightness – whatever is in there with that – and he just hasn't been able to train," Harbaugh said. "So, we just felt like, 'You know what? He's back feeling good. Let's give him a chance to train and get in football shape, and then, when he's ready to go, he'll be ready to go.'"
In other injury news, Harbaugh said offensive lineman Tyre Phillips should be back in a matter of weeks, not months.
Baltimore is already thin at offensive tackle without Ronnie Stanley, and when Alejandro Villanueva left the game with a knee injury, which Harbaugh said Sunday is not serious, the Ravens had to insert Andre Smith, who was activated from the practice squad.
The last time Smith played in a regular-season game was Nov. 10, 2019. The 34-year-old veteran, who is in his 12th NFL season, got 35 snaps and held up relatively well against Von Miller and the Broncos pass rush. He was flagged for a facemask penalty, which wiped a touchdown off the board, however.
"He did pretty well. I'll say this; he hadn't played a game for a while, so he was definitely breathing hard, but that's to be expected," Harbaugh said with a laugh. "He was excited, he was appreciative, and he did his best. I thought he did a good job."
Lamar Jackson's Back Is Fine After the Game
Jackson missed two practices last week with a sore back, but he came out of the game in Denver just fine, Harbaugh said.
"He came out of it really good," Harbaugh said. "[He] really, really, really is in good shape. He feels great right now, and he's getting ready for the Colts game."
Pundits are often concerned about the hits Jackson takes while running, but he took some of his hardest blows while in the pocket against Denver.
"I thought he did a good job of [avoiding contact] yesterday. He was getting down. He was running out of bounds," Harbaugh said. "When you're in the pocket, there's nothing you can do to protect yourself – the rules are what protect quarterbacks in the pocket."
A late hit on his long touchdown pass to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was particularly egregious and angered Jackson.
"I think all the quarterbacks should be treated the same," Harbaugh said. "I don't think any quarterback should be judged any differently in terms of how they're protected, that's for sure."
Denver Altitude Didn't Affect Ravens in Fourth Quarter
Every time a team plays in Denver, there's the question of how they'll handle the altitude and thin air. It's a definite homefield advantage that can leave opponents gasping.
The Ravens, however, overpowered the Broncos in the fourth quarter. Baltimore had offensive drives of 13 plays and 15 plays from the late third and fourth quarter and shut the Broncos out in the second half.
That's what Harbaugh pointed to when asked if anything stuck out to him about the game after watching the film.
"I'll tell you, one thing that really jumped out was how strong we were in the fourth quarter," Harbaugh said. "I heard from a lot of you guys, 'What about the fourth quarter and the altitude?' And I heard from a lot of their guys that that's when they were going to win the game – in the fourth quarter – because we were going to be affected by the altitude. Certainly, we weren't.
"So, I was pretty proud of that. I thought we won the game in the fourth quarter. That's when you win games. And to be able to do it there, in altitude, that's a statement for our players, for the conditioning [and] for how hard they work."