Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated Monday that the availability of injured starting quarterback Joe Flacco for Sunday’s rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals will be a game-time decision.
Flacco injured his hip early in the Ravens’ Nov. 4 loss to Pittsburgh after a Steelers hit forced him to land on his elbow, Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference. The 11-year veteran appeared to be in some discomfort on the sideline but did not miss any snaps in the 23-16 defeat, the Ravens’ third straight.
Harbaugh said Flacco is receiving treatment for the injury, and that the team will know more about his condition as the week progresses. Flacco participated in team activities today, but Harbaugh did not specify how much.
With speculation about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s role in the team’s short-term plans mounting ahead of the Ravens’ most important game of the season, Harbaugh declined to say whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III would start if Flacco cannot. Jackson has been active in every game this season, while Griffin last played in the preseason.
But Harbaugh was emphatic in saying that if Flacco is available, he will play.
“He's rehabbing to play,” he said. “Joe does not have to practice to play. He's practiced the whole season. He's practiced for 11 years. But he might practice. So we'll just have to see how it goes, and it's up in the air. We're not worried about it. We were blessed with a good quarterback room. That's a good thing. That's a positive thing. I'm really happy about that. We've got guys that can play — three guys that can play.
“So we have a good football team, and just like any other position in my mind, go with the next guy and you roll and go win the football game.”
Whichever quarterback starts — Jackson will at least play, Harbaugh confirmed Monday — will face an opponent neither can complain much about. As the Ravens enjoyed their bye week, the Bengals returned from theirs to absorb a 51-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
On Monday, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired after Cincinnati became the first team in NFL history to allow more than 500 yards in three straight games. Head coach Marvin Lewis, a former defensive coordinator for the Ravens, will take over a unit ranked last in the NFL in total defense (454.6 yards allowed per game, almost 35 more than the No. 31 Cleveland Browns) and second to last in scoring defense (32.0 points allowed per game).
Harbaugh said the Ravens “wouldn’t expect any dramatic changes in the scheme,” but guard Marshal Yanda acknowledged that the Bengals might now feature some of Lewis’ “blend.” It is essentially the same conundrum Cincinnati faces with the Ravens’ unsettled quarterback picture.
“It makes it tougher for the Bengals to prepare, so that's kind of a good thing,” Harbaugh said.
Whether Cincinnati might prefer to face Flacco or Jackson is a matter of taste. Flacco is No. 27 in the NFL in quarterback rating among qualified passers and has not thrown for more than 300 yards since the Ravens' Week 4 win over the Steelers. In his past five games, he has four touchdown passes and four interceptions and completed under 59 percent of his passes.
While his ability has been increasingly called into question, his durability has not. Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in 2015 and a herniated disk in 2017, Flacco has started all but six games for the Ravens in his NFL career.
“He’s one of the toughest guys that you know, that I’ve played with,” Yanda said. “Maybe the toughest guy. You never see him get injured. I mean, you never see him limping around. You never see him on the field showing any signs of weakness. He’s just been a rock for us for more than a decade. I’ve been fortunate, and just it’s awesome to play with a guy like that. I have nothing but respect for him.”
Jackson has played more snaps (27) in the past two games than he did in the previous five combined (23), and quarterbacks coach James Urban said Jackson has made his greatest strides with his consistency “in everything: calling the play, dropping back, consistency in the throwing motion, all those things.” But in the Ravens’ usage, he remains more of a running threat than a dependable drop-back passer.
Harbaugh said he was “absolutely” confident that Jackson could perform well as a starter, but he has not so much as led a drive with a game’s outcome in doubt. The Ravens know this, just as they know the fate of their season, and perhaps their coach, hinges on their seven remaining games.
At a presser that featured an unexpected “Animal House” reference from Harbaugh — to John Belushi’s classic “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” scene, of course — the highlight was the coach’s answer to a question about whether the team needs reminding about its postseason chances.
The 400-plus-word reply included a demonstrative strike of the lectern, an assertion that the 4-5 Ravens are “basically” .500, a digression on TV sports debates and a vital message: that the Ravens, quarterback problems and all, are still in the hunt.
“There are those who write history and those who make history,” he said. “Well, you know what? If you have a chance to make history, then you write the history, too. So we write our story for the next seven games. We’ll write the story of the Ravens’ 2018 season by how we play in the next seven weeks. That’s what our guys are juiced up for. All the other stuff is just fluff; it’s just noise; it’s just banter.”