The Ravens and Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley announced Tuesday that he will undergo season-ending ankle surgery for the second straight year and miss the remainder of the season.
This was no surprise. In fact, Ravens coach John Harbaugh practically told the media this was going to happen Monday when he said there was no update, but he expected a resolution on Stanley soon. Translation: He was done.
The Ravens will be fine without Stanley as they have been in most of the first six games but now they have no room for error at tackle. The hope had been for Stanley to return at some point in 2021 and then move veteran Alejandro Villanueva back from left tackle to right tackle, but those plans are now scrubbed.
Regardless of Stanley’s absence, it’s not time to panic, just as it wasn’t when the Ravens lost running backs and Gus Edwards, J.K Dobbins and Justice Hill to injuries in the preseason, but this situation is cause for concern. As long as the Ravens keep their two top masking agents — quarterback Lamar Jackson and placekicker Justin Tucker — healthy, they’ll beat most teams in the NFL.
But as of now, they’ll struggle against any team with a good defensive line just like Kansas City did against Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl in February. Fortunately, few teams have that caliber of a defensive line in the AFC, though Cleveland and Tennessee are improving. But if the Ravens lose Villanueva or right offensive tackle Patrick Mekari for an extended period of time, it would severely alter the game plan.
Stanley first injured his ankle on Nov. 1, 2020, in Baltimore against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s one thing to hear that a player has one surgery on an injury but when he has two, and then another later, it’s probably a two-year injury before he is close to 100% — if ever.
When Stanley returned to practice in training camp he moved well and had good lateral movement. But he looked so slow against Las Vegas defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue in the season opener. He didn’t seem to have any power in his pass set to push off, which means he was going to be just as ineffective in run blocking.
Villanueva also struggled at right tackle against the Raiders. He appeared even slower than Stanley, so when Harbaugh said he was moving the former Steeler to replace Stanley on Jackson’s blindside and inserting Mekari at right tackle for the second game, there was plenty of intrigue. But so far, both players have, overall, been solid.
Villanueva has been effective against pass rushers who can’t change direction quickly. He is stiff and rigid, but does well if he can get his hands on you and mirror the rusher to the outside. Mekari might be the most technically sound offensive lineman on the team but is small for a tackle at 308 pounds.
Both played strong games against Los Angeles on Sunday, but the Chargers are the Chargers. There is a reason why they had the worst run defense in the NFL entering the game, and the Ravens got back on track by rushing for 187 yards on 38 carries.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has a history of being able to neutralize the other team’s top defensive lineman. He has done a superb job of supporting Villanueva with help or chip blocks from the tight end or running back. Plus, the Ravens blocking scheme is ideal for a group of linemen who aren’t athletic and mobile but can quickly get to a spot and engage.
That’s one of the main reasons the Ravens have still been successful on offense with so many injuries.
And then there is the Jackson factor. Because of his elusiveness and ability to improvise, he can make any offensive line better.
But the situation becomes dire if one of the current two starters get hurt. Thirteen-year veteran Andre Smith is a possible candidate on the practice squad, but he was embarrassingly slow in training camp, so bad that no one picked him after the Ravens cut him.
Second-year player Tyre Phillips could play one of the tackle positions in a jam, but he has been sharing time with Ben Powers at left guard. The Ravens recently added Brandon Knight and David Sharpe to the roster, but it’s unusual to pick up quality players at this point of the season.
To put it bluntly, the Ravens are stuck. They aren’t in a bad place because they’ve won five of six games with the tackles they currently have starting. But if they lose one, Roman has to become more innovative and Jackson has to create more miracles.
Even harder is the long road Stanley has to travel in his comeback attempt.©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.