As the Ravens continue to tinker and revamp their team, the offensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark.
Right now, the unit is a revolving door, although it seemed to find some rhythm in Sunday’s 37-26 win over the New England Patriots. The Buffalo Bills will be a much bigger challenge as they have the NFL’s No. 2 ranked running defense led by Von Miller, Gregory Rousseau, Boogie Basham and Jordan Phillips.
The Ravens will counter with guards Ben Powers and Kevin Zeitler, rookie center Tyler Linderbaum and right tackle Morgan Moses, but the left tackle remains a mystery. It could be Patrick Mekari, rookie Daniel Faalele or maybe the All Pro himself, Ronnie Stanley, who has only played one game in the past two seasons due to injury. at the ankle. Stanley dressed in shorts and shoulder pads on Wednesday, but Faalele took rehearsals with the first team.
The constant shuffling is a big reason the Ravens are ranked No. 15 in rushing offense, well below their top five in previous seasons. Offensive line play is all about chemistry and timing, and the Ravens lacked consistency at left tackle, the most important position on the line.
“We strive to achieve that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a position we want to be in, that’s for sure. There’s value in having backup guys, a backup plan, with guys who can play in different positions because things happen. Ideally you want to have a group there, just like in defense, just like in the secondary, where you have a group there as much as you can.
Starting left tackle Ja’Wuan James ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 1 and is out for the season. Mekari sprained his ankle against New England and did not practice Wednesday. Faalele replaced Mekari against the Patriots and played reasonably well after a slow start, but he will struggle against the Bills defensive line.
This situation was somewhat predictable. James was struggling to make it through training camp after missing all of the 2020 and 2021 seasons and Mekari has been struggling with back pain for years. It was only a matter of time before they missed a lot of playing time due to injuries.
The Ravens need Stanley to play. He’s had nearly two years to heal, and Harbaugh basically said a week ago that Stanley has to decide for himself when he can return.
It is now.
“It’s what he sees, it’s what he feels, those two things have to be considered,” Harbaugh said. “Ronnie doesn’t want to go and we don’t ask him to go if he doesn’t feel ready to go. It is a priority for him to be at his best on his return. At some point, he’s going to have to jump in there. It could be this week.
In his first five seasons in Baltimore after being selected No. 6 overall in the 2016 draft, Stanley became one of the NFL’s top left tackles. Coming out of Notre Dame, however, he was criticized for his work ethic and there were times earlier in his professional career when Stanley decided against training when he should have been on the job. ground.
There are whispers of the same criticism again from Ravens fans and some in the organization, but it takes patience. When a player that big (6-foot-6 and 315 pounds) injures his ankle and has multiple surgeries, it will take time for him to heal.
But let’s be honest. Stanley will never be mentioned in the same breath as tough guys like Orlando Brown Sr. (nicknamed Zeus), guard Jeff Blackshear or nose tackle Tony Siragusa.
His return, however, could mark a turning point. In the past, the Ravens have bragged about gaining possession time, but this year opponents have held the ball nearly five minutes longer per game.
The Ravens have given up the most passes and total yards in the league this season, which doesn’t bode well against Buffalo. If you want to keep players like Bills quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs off the field, the best way to do that is to control the tempo.
There’s nothing more demoralizing in a game of football than attacking with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter while effectively chasing the ball. It’s almost as good as any defense.
This Ravens offense still has that potential, especially with the return of JK Dobbins as the starting running back and Judge Hill emerging as his primary backup. But the key is for all five starters on the offensive line to play consistently.
Against the Patriots, quarterback Lamar Jackson powered the rushing game with 107 yards on 11 carries. It worked on Sunday, but a quarterback shouldn’t be so exposed to penalties, especially against Buffalo.
The idea is to be balanced enough to run or pass depending on the opponent’s weaknesses, down and distance. Buffalo could be without top guards Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer and cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and Christian Benford on Sunday, giving the Ravens some breathing room.
Faalele isn’t the best response to left tackle, but at least he’ll have more playing time to develop. Another option the team could consider is moving Moses to the left side due to his athleticism. If Mekari returns, the Ravens should insert him as a left guard because he’s technically stronger than Powers, but Harbaugh prefers to have bigger bodies on the line. Mekari weighs 305 pounds compared to Powers’ 338.
The Ravens have plenty of options, including David Sharpe, who could be brought up from the practice squad in an emergency. Versatility is good, but the best offensive lines are consistent because they’ve played together consistently.
The Ravens need to find that kind of rhythm.