Singular performances and limited sample sizes aren’t always the most accurate indicators of future success, but they do make coming up with bold statements and lofty predictions more fun.
The Baltimore Ravens took care of business in a 25-9 victory over the Houston Texans in 2023 regular season opener at home on Sunday. There were some impressive and lackluster outings by a handful of players and some unfortunate developments on the injury front that could garner some overreactions.
Here are a few noteworthy showings from the team’s preseason finale that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
Ravens are cursed when it comes to injuries
After having several players coming off season-ending injuries ahead of last season, the Ravens appeared to have put those injury woes behind them heading into the 2023 regular season. Just one game into the season, they find themselves without one starter for the remainder of the season and might be without more after they left the season opener with injuries and didn’t return.
Head Coach John Harbaugh already confirmed that running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending torn Achilles after he left the game with what originally was diagnosed as an ankle injury. Safety Marcus Williams suffered what is feared to be a torn pectoral muscle but according to reports, he is optimistic that it isn’t of the season-ending variety.
The Ravens also had their two best offensive linemen go down with injuries and not return in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum. Both players got rolled up on while blocking and are slated to have MRIs soon to ascertain the extent of structural damage if there is any. If one or any of the players who hopefully aren’t dealing with season-ending injuries were to miss extended time, it would be a difficult hurdle for their respective sides of the ball to overcome.
If every Ravens win is going to come at the cost of another key starter then perhaps this franchise truly is cursed with the nonstop case of the injury bug. In all seriousness, a team can only have so many contingencies before there are too many injuries to overcome.
Unfortunately, their key players that do get banged up seem to get hurt on the routine and typically unavoidable plays that come with executing at their respective positions, such as getting rolled up on while blocking and falling or being taken to the ground awkwardly.
Was pass rush success a fluke or a sign of a potential strength?
For months, pundits and prognosticators have been expressing their lack of confidence in the Ravens plan to rush the passer this season. Then the defense went out and racked up five sacks and 10 quarterback hits in Week 1. Their front seven utterly terrorized Texans rookie quarterback CJ Stroud and took over the game at times.
As impressive as the box score appears, the standout performance came against a banged-up Houston offensive line that was missing a couple of projected starters and had some of their backups go down during the game as well. David Ojabo’s clutch strip sack came on the first play after the Texans had their third-string right tackle enter the game.
A win is a win and the constant pressure they generated was fun to watch from start to finish but the Ravens won’t be going up against rookie quarterbacks who hold on to the ball a little too long behind bad offensive lines every week.
As the season goes on, they will see more experienced signal callers who will get the ball out quicker and better blocking units capable of giving them more time to throw. Nevertheless, it was a promising start and hopefully a positive sign of what to expect moving forward.
Offensive line struggles are very concerning
Even before Stanley and Linderbaum left the game with injuries the Ravens starting five blockers struggled mightily with the Texans’ front seven, especially in the first half where Lamar Jackson could barely get a pass off without getting hit or having pressure in his face. As elusive as he is, Houston still managed to sack Lamar four times. The Ravens’ offensive line somewhat bounced back in the second half, but then injuries struck and took the wind out of the collective sails of the offense on their final few drives.
If these struggles persist, the Ravens’ new-look offense under first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken will continue to find it increasingly more difficult to get into a rhythm. They will be facing much tougher and more potent pass-rushing front sevens over the next month including the Browns, Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers in the next four weeks. That means, getting healthy and addressing any and all issues with assignments, alignments, and responsibilities will be paramount to their success.
Rock Ya-Sin should start over Ronald Darby in Week 2
The Ravens were without three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey in the opener and it showed at times with the way their reserves gave up several drive-extending conversions. It appeared that the player who was being targeted the most and gave up the most first downs was the most recent signing. Darby was brought in days after Humphrey underwent foot surgery and while he played well underneath and in run support, he left a lot to be desired in coverage.
Given that he is less than a year removed from suffering a torn ACL with the Denver Broncos in October of 2022, and he’s only been on the team for less than a month, it’s perfectly understandable for him to still be working off some rust and getting up to speed with the scheme. However, the Ravens will be facing the two-time defending AFC North champion Cincinnati on the road who will be looking to bounce back in a big way in their home opener after getting shellacked by the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.
As bad as Joe Burrow and the rest of their offense looked this past Sunday, they’re still loaded with talented wide receivers. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins will be hungry and licking their chops. Considering how well they fared the last time they went up against a banged-up Ravens secondary in 2021, that confidence might be warranted but the Ravens won’t be starting street free agents this time around, even without Humphrey.
The starting lineup they rolled out against the Texans includes Darby and third-year pro Brandon Stephens on the outside and another third-year pro at nickel in Ar’Darius Washington. After watching Stroud find his stride at times with a lackluster wideout group, one can only fathom the damage an embarrassed Burrow can do with two No. 1 receivers to throw to.
Ya-Sin was their first post-draft signing and he was in line to be the starter opposite Humphrey before he suffered a leg injury that caused him to miss most of camp. He didn’t check into the season opener at outside corner until the second half but given his aggressive press-man playing style, he might present the better matchup for a physical receivers like Chase and Higgins.
Jordan Stout is on track for a All-Pro season
The second-year Ravens players that received the most hype and high expectations during the offseason came exclusively on offense and defense. However, after a brilliant performance in the season opener, it might be time to include punter Jordan Stout’s name in that conversation as well.
The 2022 fourth-rounder pinned the Texans’ offense inside their own 20-yard line on three of his five attempts and had a long of 67 on the day. Stout finished with an average of 49.8 yards per punt and if he keeps this up, in addition to being a field-flipping weapon for the Ravens, he’ll be in consideration for both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters.