Ravens Could Be Down 2 Linebackers vs. Bengals After Latest Roster Shift

Ravens Justin Houston

Getty Baltimore Ravens linebacker Justin Houston celebrates a sack with teammate Tyus Bowser on November 21.

The Baltimore Ravens have temporarily lost outside linebacker Justin Houston, who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as the result of a positive test, per the Ravens’ website and the NFL’s official transaction report.

Houston was one of 47 players to test positive on December 20, a single-day high for the NFL, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The veteran linebacker joins five other Ravens on the COVID Reserve list, all of whom missed the Ravens’ Week 15 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

To replace Houston, the Ravens activated Pernell McPhee from the injured reserve list, where he was placed on November 21 with a knee injury. The veteran outside linebacker hasn’t played since Baltimore’s Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, with Tyus Bowser playing quite well in his increased snaps during McPhee’s absence.

But McPhee was immediately placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list with Houston, per the NFL’s official transaction report for December 21.

McPhee was expected to make his return to practice this week after doing individual workouts with fellow injured outside linebacker Daelin Hayes last week, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. Hayes has been on injured reserve for most of the season, but Zrebiec reported on December 17 that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is expecting Hayes to return “pretty soon.”

Houston Excelling In Baltimore

Houston has been one of Baltimore’s best offseason acquisitions, grading out as the team’s second-best defender this season. His 77.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus is first among the Ravens’ outside linebackers, and his 78.6 pass rush grades leads the team.

The All-Pro veteran has recorded 37 quarterback pressures this season, already surpassing his total from 2020, and he’s held up in coverage when required by Baltimore’s versatile defense scheme.

He has continually made plays in big moments, including against the Packers, when he sacked Aaron Rodgers to prevent Green Bay from getting into field goal range at the end of the first half.

Houston is also having a major impact on the Ravens’ defense as a leader and mentor to Baltimore’s outside linebacker corps. Houston can frequently be seen putting in extra practice with his younger teammates, especially budding stars Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh.

Bowser has already set new career-highs in both pressures and sacks this season, while Oweh’s 42 pressures rank second among all rookies this season, per PFF. Both players have repeatedly spoken about learning from Houston’s 11 years in the NFL, especially in developing their pass rush moves.

Houston’s on- and off-field success this season has been instrumental in the continued success of the Ravens’ defense, despite a brutal injury bug.

Houston Could Return vs. Bengals

Despite his placement on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Houston could return to the Ravens in time to play against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 26.

Under the NFL’s new health and safety protocols, vaccinated players can come off the list if they have two negative coronavirus tests, though Houston’s vaccination status is unknown.

If Houston and McPhee are unavailable to play in Cincinnati, expect to see more snaps from Oweh and Jaylon Ferguson at outside linebacker. Bowser has played more than 80% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in each of the last five games, including three consecutive games with over 92% of the defense’s snaps from Weeks 12-14, so he can’t exactly take on a bigger workload.

Second-year linebacker Malik Harrison could also take some snaps at outside linebacker in Houston’s absence. Harrison came into the NFL as an inside linebacker, but Harbaugh told media on November 26 that Harrison “is definitely an option” at outside linebacker as well. The former Ohio State Buckeye has only played on special teams since recovering from a shooting in Cleveland on Halloween, but he could see more playing time with Houston out.

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