There was at least some skepticism outside the team building about the Ravens' thought process in giving interior run stuffer Brandon Williams a five-year, $52.5 million deal in March. It's a passing league and the Ravens, a team with annual salary cap problems, gave a player with 4 ½ sacks in four NFL seasons a guaranteed $24.5 million.
I was among those who wondered whether it was the right move, but I'm not wondering anymore, and nobody else should be either. Williams' absence over the past two weeks because of a foot injury has been glaring in myriad ways.
It's been evident in the struggles of the run defense, which has given up 339 yards and three rushing touchdowns with Williams out. It's been evident with the Ravens' failure to get any inside pressure on the quarterback the past two weeks, a concern exacerbated by the season-ending foot injury to defensive end Brent Urban. It's been evident with the number of double teams that nose tackle Michael Pierce is facing, the increased attention on rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has struggled to get near the quarterback with Williams out, and with the number of blockers getting to middle linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Everybody in the Ravens' locker room knows how important Williams is to what the team does defensively. But this two-game stretch has been a reminder to everybody else of Williams' value. The Ravens will almost certainly be without Williams on Sunday when they travel to Oakland to face Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders. It's hardly certain that Williams will be back in time for the Oct. 15 matchup with the Chicago Bears either.
The Ravens badly need the anchor of their defensive line back. His absence hasn't been as demoralizing to the defense as Marshal Yanda's is to the offense, but it's not far off.
Looking at No. 2
As the Ravens try to stop a two-game slide, it's possible they'll play their next four games against teams not starting their No. 1 quarterback heading into training camp.
This week, they'll get EJ Manuel and not Raiders starter Derek Carr, who is sidelined with a back injury. The following week, they'll likely face Mitchell Trubisky, who was announced as the Bears' starter this week in place of an ineffective Mike Glennon.
On Oct. 22, the Ravens play the Minnesota Vikings, who are currently starting Case Keenum because Sam Bradford is dealing with a knee injury. On Oct. 26, Jay Cutler, who was signed after Ryan Tannehill went down with a season-ending knee injury, will lead the Miami Dolphins into M&T Bank Stadium.
It won't matter who is playing quarterback if the Ravens don't do a better job of stopping the run and applying pressure on defense and don't get some offense of their own, but it's a situation you'd expect a quality team to take advantage of. Whether the Ravens can, that remains to be seen.
Getting another chance
If running back Alex Collins wants a reminder of how fortunate he is that the Ravens have stuck with him despite two lost fumbles in his first 20 carries, he should consult with players Buck Allen, Deonte Thompson and Lorenzo Taliaferro. All three had a hard time regaining John Harbaugh and the coaching staff's faith after losing fumbles.
In this case, the Ravens really don't have a choice but to keep Collins involved. He's one of the only players on the offensive side of the ball the past couple of weeks who has shown anything. The Ravens also need his elusiveness with the state of their offensive line.
Still, Harbaugh absolutely abhors fumbles, and that Collins is in line to get more opportunities is an indication of just how desperate the Ravens are to get something going offensively. That being said, if he loses a fumble against the Raiders, that might be his swan song.
There is no one solution to what is ailing quarterback Joe Flacco and a struggling offense, and if there was, it would've been fixed long ago.
The offense's problems are wide-ranging, from Flacco looking gun-shy and inaccurate and not making good decisions, to the offensive line not protecting him suitably, to the wide receivers not getting separation or making catches in traffic, to the offensive coaching staff not finding ways to get its group on track. But it goes without saying that the Ravens need to try anything and everything to spur productive play out of their veteran quarterback.
Maybe that means more passing plays during which he gets the ball out of his hands early, such as slants, hitches or screens. You rarely see any of those things from the Ravens. Maybe that means shifting around personnel a bit and promoting wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo from the practice squad or using Michael Campanaro more in the slot. Maybe that means speeding up the pace of the offense, a plan that has gotten Flacco going in the past. Or maybe that means making sure to take at least one deep shot per half, assuming the protection holds up. If you're going to throw interceptions, at least do it while challenging the defense downfield.
There is a lot of pressure on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg this week to get Flacco into his comfort zone because the past two weeks have been far from it.
Five quick thoughts
1. That the Ravens are being so patient with undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill, who has been sidelined for five weeks because of a hamstring injury, tells me that they envision him potentially fitting into that slot cornerback role. Otherwise, it doesn't make much sense for such a banged-up team to hold open a roster spot for five weeks for an unknown commodity.
2. It's still early, but the Ravens' best and most consistent player on either side of the ball through four weeks has been cornerback Jimmy Smith.
3. Safety Eric Weddle is a tough guy who plays through injuries and it seems obvious the past couple of weeks that something is bothering him. Weddle hasn't been as aggressive or as sturdy as a tackler.
4. If the Ravens keep taking hits along their defensive front, you wonder if they'd explore bringing back free agent Arthur Jones, who was released by the Indianapolis Colts in March. Jones had sports hernia surgery in July, so he should be close to being healthy again.
5. The Ravens need much more production than they are getting from Matthew Judon and their young outside linebackers, both on the pass rush and in the run game.
Updating former Ravens
Congratulations to San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, who had two sacks Sunday to give him 100 for his career. Dumervil is one of just three active players with 100 career sacks. Julius Peppers and Suggs are the other two. … Dumervil's former Ravens and current 49ers teammate Kyle Juszczyk has six catches for 66 yards and two carries for 8 yards in four games. … Former 49ers and Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith had another big drop Sunday and has 10 catches on 19 targets for 134 yards for the Philadelphia Eagles. Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has six tackles and 1½ sacks for the Eagles. Former Eagle and Raven and a former teammate of Jernigan's at Florida State, safety Terrence Brooks, was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week with two interceptions for the New York Jets. … Former Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken has been quiet in his first season for the Colts with six catches for 47 yards. Former Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin is off to a really nice start for the Colts, breaking up seven passes and making two interceptions in four starts. … Former Ravens defensive end Lawrence Guy has nine tackles on a struggling New England Patriots defense. … Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright has played in all four games as a reserve and has four tackles and a fumble recovery.
- Baltimore Ravens
- Brandon Williams
- Joe Flacco
- Indianapolis Colts
- Chicago Bears
- San Francisco 49ers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Buffalo Bills
- Minnesota Vikings
- New England Patriots
- New York Jets
- Julius Peppers
- Torrey Smith
- Shareece Wright
- Sam Bradford
- Deonte Thompson
- Arthur Jones
- Eric Weddle
- Marshawn Lynch