There’s an overused cliche in the NFL whenever a player gets injured that reads, “Next man up.” It’s mostly about how the machine of the season moves on, and whoever is next on the depth chart is expected to step in and play the role his team needs.
But for the Ravens’ offense this season, that’s simply not applicable.
They’re down All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the season due to an ankle injury. All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda retired in January and promptly lost weight like a contestant on The Biggest Loser, so even if the Ravens wanted him back, it wouldn’t be feasible. Even Yanda’s replacement, rookie guard Tyre Phillips, is on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Then, last Sunday, tight end Nick Boyle suffered a gruesome leg injury and will be out for the season. He was routinely praised by his teammates for being the best blocking tight end in football.
“Nick has been a very integral player for us,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “His understanding and knowledge of the offense and all the adjustments goes without saying. His attitude, toughness, what he brought every single daily really should be emulated. He’s a valuable player and he’s going to be fine. It’s going to take him some time to get back, but he’ll be better than ever.”
Without Boyle, the Ravens have just one tight end on the active roster. They added Luke Willson to the practice squad, and could bring up two of the three tight ends there if they feel the need to. They could also elevate Sean Culkin or Xavier Grimble.
But without Boyle, or Stanley, the same run-first approach might not be the most efficient one any longer. That’s not to say they will stray from the rushing attack as much as they love it, but instead, it will have to evolve as new players take new roles.
“In the meantime, it’s a great opportunity for others to step up and we’ll kind of forge a new identity moving forward,” Roman said. “That’s just how it goes sometimes. Nick’s probably one of the, if not the best, blocking tight ends in the league in my estimation. Obviously things will change a little bit, and just got to make those adjustments. It’s an exciting opportunity for others to step up.”
The second-ranked Ravens rushing attack has been what most expected this season, but quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t hit his stride in the passing game like many expected he would.
Second-year receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has 32 receptions in nine games for 431 yards on the season — an average of 47.9 yards per game. Willie Snead has jumped into the role as the second wide receiver and made 25 catches for 356 yards, but no other wideout has more than 14 catches.
Absent Boyle, the Ravens’ offense will need to evolve over the coming weeks as different players enter the lineup.
Next man up or not, the offense is going to look different in the coming weeks.
“Just keep going after it, keep shooting my shot, just keep giving him an opportunity – that’s all,” Jackson said of his deep passes with Brown. “We’re going to be good, for sure.”