Ravens are determined not to let injuries define their season
Last year the Baltimore Ravens were fortunate enough to be one of the healthiest teams in the league for the vast majority of the regular season.
Their two biggest injuries were to stud nickelback Tavon Young who was diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury in training camp and center Matt Skura was having a career year before suffering a season-ending knee injury that cost him the last five games of the regular season and the team’s lone playoff game.
Thankfully they had undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari step in and perform surprisingly well at center and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey have a breakout year as a dominant corner on the outside as well as in the slot.
There was also the injury to starting safety Tony Jefferson who suffered a torn ACL early in the year but was seamlessly replaced by 2017 sixth-round pick Chuck Clark who was not only an upgrade but became a stabilizing force in the secondary and the defensive signal-caller which is a responsibility he still currently holds and excels at.
Unfortunately, this year’s team hasn’t been nearly as lucky on the injury front when it comes to having their starters and other key players on both sides of the ball.
It has cost them dearly at times and most glaringly this past Sunday in their 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots as well as cast a shroud of doubt and uncertainty around their playoff prospects moving forward.
“It’s an issue, for sure,” said Head Coach John Harbaugh. “You don’t want injuries. We’ve had … These are contact injuries, most of them. These are guys in piles, guys getting landed on [and] guys getting hit – that’s football.
“That’s what it is; we’re going to have these things, and that’s it. So, we just have to overcome them. I don’t think it does anybody any good to sit there and say, ‘Well, it’s this degree of a problem.”
The Ravens injured reserve list has been flooded with injuries both season-ending and short-term designations since the season began and now includes two starting offensive linemen (LT Ronnie Stanley and RG Tyre Phillips), five cornerbacks, two special teams aces (LB Otaro Alaka and WR Chris Moore), and their best blocking tight end (Nick Boyle) who was a key cog in their running game.
Baltimore also has their best two interior defensive linemen (NT Brandon Williams and DE Calais Campbell) dealing with lower extremity injuries that severely hampered the team’s run defense in their Week 10 loss to the Patriots and threatens to potentially have a similar effect when the Tennessee Titans come to town in Week 11.
“We’ll be lining up against a team next week that is going to try to run the ball on us, and we’re going to have to be up to the task to get it stopped,” said Harbaugh.
Every team has to deal with injuries every year because it is a natural and unavoidable facet of the game and often a result of the sheer physical nature of the sport.
What separates good teams that let their season fall by the wayside once they are beset by the injury bug from the great teams that are able to overcome it and prosper lies in how the team responds to adversity and how their backups and younger players step up.
Harbaugh and the Ravens are going to miss the guys they have lost for the season but remain confident in the ability of their less experienced players to step up in their place and at least hold down the fort until the shorter term injured players can return to action.
“Teams have them; Guys are going to have to step up, and they’re going to step up,” said Harbaugh. “They’re going to step up and play well, and we’re going to be in good shape. I’m not worried about guys stepping up and playing well. That’s their job and that will be an opportunity for other guys until other guys come back. Most of those guys – a lot of those guys – will be coming back.
Starting quarterback and reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson, who has been a media lightning rod for most of the team’s 2020 struggles is also confident in the ability of his less-heralded teammates to step up to the plate and play well at those starting and key positions.
“We’ve got studs on our team,” said Jackson on Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of vets. Some guys have been through it before. Some guys haven’t. We’re just going to stick together; we’re going to build. It’s one team, one goal. We’re good.”
Veteran wide receiver Willie Snead IV echoed similar sentiments in his postgame presser.
“We just have to continue to build,” said Snead. “I don’t think this loss is going to define our season by any means.”
While Snead was referring to the Ravens’ third loss of the season that came at the hands of a Patriots team that they were heavily favored to beat when he said “this loss”, they can’t let the loss of so many players to injury to define their season either.
How they respond to injury-related adversity that appears to mount even higher with each week that passes will dictate how this season end for the 2020 Ravens.
With a favorable schedule down the stretch outside of their next two games, if their backups and young players can step up and hold down the fort until reinforcements eventually arrive, they could find themselves locked and loaded for hopefully a much deeper postseason run.
Last year’s team tore through the regular season and were red-hot heading into the playoffs coming off a league leading a franchise record 12-game winning streak.
After their starters had nearly three weeks of rest because they had nothing to play for in Week 17 and a first-round bye, they got upset in the Divisional round by a Tennessee Titans team that had to fight and claw their way just to earn a wild card berth.
The Titans had already been playing in playoff mode for over a month before they faced the surging Ravens who were coasting down the stretch and were the darlings of the league. They had no margin of error because of their poor start to the season before their midseason turnaround.
The Ravens are off to a bad start to the season from a health standpoint but thankfully it hasn’t adversely affected their record like it would have and has done to other teams.
However, that can change as quickly as the swirling winds of a hurricane if they aren’t careful and if they don’t get at least competent play from their former reserves turned starters and key rotational players.
The 2019 San Francisco 49ers lost several players on both sides of the ball prior to and during the season for the year or at least stretches of it but they were able to overcome those injuries and go on to represent the NFC in the Superbowl because of a combination of excellent coaching and strong contributions from backups and younger players.
Even though the Ravens seem to have a mountain of injuries piled up, they still have talented players on the roster on both sides of the ball that are capable of playing at a high level and they will need them to do so consistently if they don’t want injuries to define the rest of their season.