Eisenberg: What the Ravens Can (And Can't) Control

T Ronnie Stanley goes against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV on Sunday, September 13, 2021.

Fundamentally, the Ravens' efforts to build a roster for the 2022 season are all about control.

When they made safety Marcus Williams their most expensive acquisition of the offseason, they were trying to better control their level of defensive playmaking, which suffered at times in 2021.

When they signed 335-pound Morgan Moses to play right tackle, they were seeking more control over the caliber of their offensive line, which General Manager Eric DeCosta has called a "point of emphasis."

Bringing back fullback Patrick Ricard was part of an effort to stay in control of the Ravens' signature quality, their physical playing style.

The draft, just a few weeks away now, is nothing if not an annual effort to better control several areas of the team, likely starting with the pass rush and defensive line this year.

But ironically, while the offseason is all about the Ravens trying to control what happens during the season, they have little to no control over the item at the top of their wish list for 2022.

They're hoping Ronnie Stanley's injured ankle is sufficiently repaired to allow him to reclaim his starting spot and perform at the level that made him an All-Pro left tackle. They're doing all they can to make it happen.

But they can't count on it. The human body is fickle and unpredictable, and as they know too well, there's just no guaranteeing the course of any injury.

A year ago, the Ravens counted on Stanley returning to anchor the O-line; he had gone through extensive rehab after fracturing his ankle in November 2020. But when Stanley struggled in the season opener against the Raiders, he realized he couldn't perform at his desired level and underwent another season-ending surgery.

"That was a big setback," DeCosta said after the 2021 season, during which the Ravens' O-line ranked No. 21 out of 32 teams, according to Pro Football Focus.

It was a teachable moment because the organization wound up having to replace Stanley with Alejandro Villanueva, a game but declining veteran who had been signed to play right tackle.

If anything, DeCosta and the Ravens know now that they must face the possibility that Stanley can't go.

But they're sure hoping he does.

They like what they're seeing as he grinds through another offseason of rehab. Stanley is "doing well, by all accounts," Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week.

Trying to establish as much control as possible over the health of their entire roster, the Ravens have hired a new head trainer and overhauled how they'll practice in 2022. They're hoping to experience fewer subtractions. And they're really hoping to get Stanley back.

They're trying to upgrade their O-line because they're a downhill running team at heart with a quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who is most effective when given the time and space to do his thing.

"Just in general, what we do know is for us to be the very best offense we can be, we have to have a strong, commanding offensive line that can control people at the point of attack," DeCosta said.

It isn't a coincidence that their best season with Jackson came when they had Stanley, Marshal Yanda and Orlando Brown Jr. anchoring the O-line in 2019. That's three Pro Bowlers.

But Yanda retired after that season and Brown was traded last year. Stanley's injury completed the trifecta of subtractions.

Trying to make up for what was lost, the Ravens invested free agent capital in guard Kevin Zeitler last year and Moses this year. That helps. It hurt to lose center Bradley Bozeman on the open market last month, although Patrick Mekari projects as a solid replacement.

But let's face it, any chance of the Ravens rolling out a truly dominant O-line in 2022 depends on having Stanley back at left tackle. It would "be a huge, huge advantage for us moving forward," DeCosta said.

The GM continued: "I truly believe Ronnie is going to be back this year and play good football, play winning football and become, again, the Ronnie Stanley that was an All-Pro left tackle."

Sounds good. We'll see.

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