OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Six days before playing one of the most important regular-season games in the 16-year history of the franchise, the Ravens face the frightening possibility of playing at far less than full strength.
Playing the Cincinnati Bengals — who will clinch the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs with a win — is challenging enough, but the Ravens may have to do it without starting right guard Marshal Yanda, who has graded out as the team’s best offensive lineman this season. Yanda sustained separate contusions to the rib cage and thigh in Saturday’s 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns and told reporters he had difficulty breathing following the game.
If Yanda is unable to play, veteran Andre Gurode would start at right guard, a position he played early in his 10-year career with the Dallas Cowboys. Gurode made five starts at left guard in place of Ben Grubbs earlier this season.
The Ravens can only hope Yanda makes enough improvement during the week to be available against the Bengals’ sixth-ranked run defense. Baltimore has had much success running to the right side of the offensive line behind Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.
“We’ll just have to see how he does on that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re good bruises, so we’ll see where that goes.”
With the term “contusion” a vague one, the possibility exists that Yanda’s rib injury might be more severe, but the treatment for cracked or broken ribs wouldn’t be any different than a contusion, leading us to simply wait and see how the fifth-year lineman progresses until Sunday.
The Ravens also lost a pair of key defensive contributors in starting cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who both sustained concussions in the win over Cleveland and did not return. Rookie Jimmy Smith filled in for Williams at cornerback while Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo saw an increased workload in the inside linebacker rotation with Ellerbe sidelined.
With the recent developments in Cleveland with concussed quarterback Colt McCoy and the controversy that ensued, it’s not surprising to hear coaches treading lightly in declaring a prognosis.
“Both are looking pretty decent today,” Harbaugh said. “With concussions, you never really know, so we’ll just have to see when and if they get cleared. We’ll keep our fingers crossed on that.”
Reed’s season over
The Ravens announced early Monday afternoon they had placed kick returner David Reed on injured reserve with a knee injury, and Harbaugh confirmed the second-year receiver tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the second half of Saturday’s win.
Reed will undergo surgery in the near future to repair the ligament, Harbaugh confirmed. The injury was isolated to the ACL and no other structural damage took place.
The ironic part of the injury is that Harbaugh believed Reed was on his way to a touchdown to begin the second half before the knee gave out on the return.
“He had two guys out in front of him, and I didn’t see anybody between him and the end zone there,” Harbaugh said. “That was going to the house, and then the leg buckles. A lot of things are unpredictable in football. That’s certainly not one we would have predicted. We’ll just have to move forward.”
Safety Tom Zbikowski will assume kickoff duties as he did in place of Reed when he was benched during the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in mid-November after fumbling two kickoffs.
On the mend
The Ravens were without three key players entering Saturday’s game against the Browns, but Harbaugh provided positive news on the trio of Billy Cundiff, Cory Redding, and Anquan Boldin on Monday.
Cundiff was replaced by veteran Shayne Graham, who made field goals of 48 and 42 yards against the Browns. Harbaugh said the Ravens do not anticipate keep Graham on the 53-man roster wants Cundiff proves healthy enough to return to the lineup.
The Baltimore coach hopes the return could be in time to play Cincinnati.
“We’ll have to see about this week,” Harbaugh said. “Like I told you, I want to see him practice. We’ll know more Wednesday [or] Thursday.”
Harbaugh also provided a positive update on Redding, who missed Saturday’s game after tweaking his sore ankle during pre-game warmups after going through a series of lateral movement drills. Second-year lineman Arthur Jones took Redding’s place in the starting lineup.
Boldin responded well to surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus in his knee. The Ravens expect Boldin to be ready for the start of the postseason, but a first-round bye would alleviate concerns with having to rush him back too soon.
“He’s doing very, very well,” Harbaugh said. “The swelling’s out of the knee, so things are looking good there. Nothing’s changed as far as when he’ll be back, time-wise.”