The Ravens are 3-1 heading into the bye week, which is impressive when you consider the team beat playoff caliber teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets. The St. Louis Rams win on the road in Week 3 was a gimmie, so let’s not get too excited about that one. What we should be excited about is the record, the quality wins, and the fact that this team has not been very healthy but endured through injuries.
The deep-threat wide receiver GM Ozzie Newsome brought in to stretch the field in Lee Evans hasn’t played much and only has two catches. That injury to Evans, however, gave Coach John Harbaugh a great opportunity to see what rookie second-round pick WR Torrey Smith (Maryland) can do. He stepped up in the Rams game for a career day with three TD catches and earned the respect of his coaches and quarterback.
With C Matt Birk’s preseason surgery and now G Ben Grubbs’s toe injury, the preseason pickup of Andre Gurode has proven critical to a patch-work offensive line. Again, Newsome’s clever moves in adding proven veterans paid off. Gurode can play center if Birk needs a break and has stepped in admirably for Grubbs. The O-line, including offseason pick-up T Bryant McKinnie, has protected QB Joe Flacco very well this season thus far.
The offseason pickup of S Bernard Pollard was another veteran depth move by Newsome. This time, a knee injury to Haruki Nakamura and now a concussion to Tom Zbikowski, forces Pollard into a more important role. Pollard, a heavy hitter, isn’t exactly a slouch in coverage, either. His skills will be tested after the bye.
With injuries to cornerbacks Chris Carr and Jimmy Smith—not to mention placing CB Domonique Foxworth on injured reserve because of his knee—the outside defensive backs were depleted in a major way. Some young guys were called up, but Ozzie again jumped into action, adding second-year CB Bryan McCann for depth. McCann is a young guy who played for the Dallas Cowboys last season and was recently released by the team. He brings a bit more speed and experience to the defensive backfield than rookie CB Chyckie Brown and CB Danny Gorrer. McCann can also return punts. It’s nice to have another option there as well.
Depth has helped sustain a team making a run at the Lombardi Trophy. Now let’s examine how good this Ravens team can be when players get healthy.
Jimmy Smith and Ben Grubbs are due back after the bye week. Chris Carr’s injury isn’t expected to keep him out all year, either. Nakamura is a longer-term knee injury, but he could return in time for a late-season run.
Once the injured Ravens return, the team gets better. Lee Evans, Anquan Boldin, and a young speedster like Torrey Smith will be more formidable than what the Ravens used in Week 2 or 3 (David Reed is also injured, and he was in that mix). The offensive line will be stronger when Grubbs returns to his guard position. Maybe Birk can take a break from time to time and give Gurode some reps at center.
In short, Ozzie Newsome has addressed the team’s weaknesses with careful, clever additions. Those additions have proven that this team can withstand some of the injuries that in years past would have derailed a Super Bowl run. This team is built to win it all and the Wizard of Oz is still working his magic.
The bye week delivers a well-timed opportunity to get healthy and shore up the elements that needs some fixing. There are plenty of difficult games to come after the bye, but Ozzie has methodically placed this team in a position to make a run with attention to detail and to depth, all while staying under the salary cap.
When teams lose this many starters, they tend to fall apart a bit. Not the Ravens. Not this team and not this year. Ozzie sees the end drawing near for Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, so he has put this squad together to make sure talent isn’t the missing ingredient in a run to Indianapolis.