The Baltimore Ravens can’t seem to escape a game so far this year without a starter or key depth player suffering a major or season-ending injury. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, starting defensive lineman Michael Pierce is the latest to join the list after suffering a torn biceps in the team’s 37-26 win over the New England Patriots in Week 3.
The Ravens have had one or more players go down with a severe injury in every game through the first three weeks of the 2022 regular season.
In the team’s Week 1 win over the New York Jets, veteran offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James suffered a torn Achilles tendon for the second time in as many years and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller tore his ACL. Against the Miami Dolphins in a gut-wrenching home 42-38 loss in Week 2, veteran outside linebacker Steven Means also tore his Achilles tendon, and rookie inside linebacker Josh Ross suffered a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve as well although he has a chance to return at some point in the season.
The only good news to glean from this unpleasant update is that Pierce might not be out of the entire season but it’s still a tough blow to the defense as he was their second-highest graded defender and player overall according to Pro Football Focus through the Ravens’ first two games. The team brought back their former undrafted gem out Samford in 2016 for a second stint on a three-year deal in free agency this offseason.
How To Fill The Juggernaut-Sized Void
While Pierce may have avoided a season-ending injury, his absence for whatever amount of time that the team will eventually announce leaves them with a massive hole on their depth chart that will need to be filled to fortify their ranks in the defensive trenches. He will most likely be replaced in the starting lineup at nose tackle by third-round rookie Travis Jones.
The first-year pro made his regular season debut in Week 3 after he sat out the first two games to recover from a knee hyperextension. The former UCONN product consistently showed dominant flashes in the preseason and even though he didn’t register any final box score stats against the Patriots in 29 snaps, Spencer Shultz of Baltimore Beatdown saw enough of the same glimpses to believe that Jones will become “a household name” in a few months.
“I thought he played well,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a press conference on September 26, 2022. “Travis is going to be a very impactful player. It was his first outing out there, and he played hard. He’s going to learn a lot from it. He played well enough for the first time out, you said he played well, but of course, we have high expectations for him and he’s only going to get better from here.”
The Ravens could explore possibly bringing back the familiar face they re-signed Pierce to replace with 10-year veteran Brandon Williams. The 2018 Pro Bowler spent the first nine years of his career as the run-stuffing anchor in the middle of the Ravens defense that was instrumental in the unit being one of the stingiest in the league against opposing ground games for most of the last decade. He is currently an unrestricted free agent and could likely be had for a veteran minimum contract.
As familiar as Williams is with the team and even though he is a fan favorite, he doesn’t bring much to the table as an interior pass rusher which is an area that Pierce was extremely proficient at in addition to being a brick wall in run defense. The Ravens already have a pair of interior defensive linemen on their practice squad who, like Jones, showed a lot of promise in that area during the preseason in fourth-year pro Isaiah Mack and undrafted rookie Rayshod Nichols.
Rookies Will Be Leaned On Going Forward
Jones wasn’t the only member of the Ravens 2022 class that stood out and made impressive plays against the Patriots this past Sunday and surely won’t be the only one that will need to continue to step up as the season goes along.
Both of their first-rounders stepped up in a major way in Week 3 and played significant roles in helping both the defense and running game bounce back after poor showings the week before. Even though he played in his lowest amount of snaps with just 16, safety Kyle Hamilton made one of the biggest and most clutch plays of the game when he showed great hustle to force a crucial fumble for one of the team’s three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Starting center Tyler Linderbaum had his best game to date as looks more comfortable, aggressive, and technically sound in his blocking in both the run and pass game. He played 100 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps for a third straight week, made some very impressive blocks, and showcased his ability to get out and move in space.
Fourth-round offensive tackle Daniel Faalele was thrust into the starting lineup and had to finish the game at left tackle after Patrick Mekari went down in the first quarter. He bounced back in a big way after a rough start where he allowed two sacks in the first half and finished the game on a strong note.
“As the game went on, he really settled in,” Harbaugh said. “The two rushers they had, obviously coming off the edges, were both very good football players. It just seemed to me that once we kind of got settled down … A loud stadium, silent count – [he] really hadn’t been practicing the silent count all week with the ones.
“Once he kind of got the timing of that down and got a feel for the speed of the game, he seemed to get his confidence into the second half where I think he felt like he belonged out there, and started playing really well. So, that was a big plus for us. The whole offensive line played extremely well, and he’s a good example of that.”
Fourth-round tight end Isaiah Likely hasn’t carried his dominant preseason and training camp over to the regular season just yet but he has flashed some of the same exciting traits that made him a hype beast in the month of August.
Fourth-round corners Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams had some up and down performances to start the year when called upon as they get a trial by fire. They have made some nice plays well and will get better with the more live game reps they receive.