Despite a 36-point victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that pushed their winning streak to five, the Ravens couldn’t hide one of their biggest weaknesses Sunday.

They lack quality depth on the defensive line, and that could be crucial heading into the final months of the season.


Ravens coach John Harbaugh was pleased to announce Monday that defensive tackle Michael Pierce’s ankle injury isn’t believed to be serious and that he might play Sunday against the Houston Texans, depending on daily evaluations.

But once Pierce left early in the first quarter Sunday against the Bengals, his absence revealed the same problems the Ravens had without nose tackle Brandon Williams in a 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 29.

On that day, Browns running back Nick Chubb rushed 20 times for 165 yards as Cleveland totaled 193 yards on the ground. On Sunday, Bengals running back Joe Mixon had 114 yards on 30 carries.

Most of Cincinnati’s rushing yards came in the first half when the game was still somewhat undecided, but the Bengals had to abandon the run in the second half to play catch-up. Cincinnati’s rushing totals are a concern for Harbaugh. Before the game, Pierce had started every game this season and was ninth on the team in tackles with 21.

“I thought the Bengals moved the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “They had really good runs. This Joe Mixon is a great back and their offensive line did a really good job. We’re going to have to look at it really hard.”

Pierce played three snaps Sunday. Without him and Williams playing full-time, the Ravens’ front seven is average. Whenever Williams has missed time because of injury throughout his seven-year career, the Ravens have struggled to stop the run.

Williams played well against Cincinnati and finished with seven tackles, but it’s hard defending the run without two big bodies in the middle. There have even been times this season when Williams and Pierce have replaced each other to get a much-needed rest.

These are two of the best run-stoppers in the NFL. Without them, the Ravens’ front seven consists of stop-gap defensive linemen and average linebackers who run well, but are light.

Without Williams or Pierce, the dynamics change. Before Sunday, the Bengals had the NFL’s worst rushing offense, averaging 59.5 yards per game.

“Really, Brandon was the guy. He was a force,” Harbaugh said of Williams’ performance Sunday. “He took it upon himself to get there unstopped, especially in the second half. He played a lot of plays, played super hard. He was very physical, played very hard.”

The Ravens defense has gotten better during the season with the addition of free-agent linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes and the recent return of injured weak-side linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. But they either didn’t seem interested in stopping the Bengals or had trouble getting off blocks.

After the game, Harbaugh pointed out that Cincinnati had an advantage in time of possession — 36:11 compared with 23:49 for the Ravens. That is somewhat misleading, considering the Ravens put up 49 points.

But he got his point across. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is able to mask a lot of the team’s weaknesses. He makes an average offensive line look good and a solid running game look dominant.

Because of his ability to extend plays, he keeps an average defense off the field and rested. But the best way to beat the Ravens is to keep Jackson on the sideline, and that can be done by pounding the ball.


During an offseason minicamp, Harbaugh threw Pierce out of practice because he was extremely overweight and unprepared to play. Back then, Harbaugh wasn’t aware of what the absence of a Williams or Pierce would mean because the Ravens were still building their team.

He does now.

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