OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter one of the most critical regular-season games of the John Harbaugh era without their starting offensive tackles.
After missing practices all week, left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) have been ruled out against Pittsburgh, leaving an offensive line that’s already had its problems this season in a precarious position against a Steelers defense tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks. Hurst will be sitting out his third straight game while Stanley was injured in the second half of last Sunday’s loss at Carolina. Their absence will likely mean more max protect using Nick Boyle and other Ravens tight ends to try to keep quarterback Joe Flacco clean in the pocket.
“Our coaches do a great job with [adjustments], and I’m very confident in the guys that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how they do. That’s the nature of it. We’re not as healthy as they are, but we’re healthy enough to win the game; I promise you that. I can’t wait to go out and play.”
With Stanley missing the sixth game of his NFL career, the assumption is that second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor will start at left tackle after he played 19 snaps there last week. The 2017 fifth-round pick was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster less than two weeks ago and said Friday he hasn’t played left tackle on a regular basis since his junior college days. However, Eluemunor believes last week’s snaps against the Panthers as well as extensive practice reps as a scout-team offensive tackle facing outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon have prepared him for this opportunity.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” said Eluemunor about playing left tackle. “I’ve been going against ‘Sizz’ every day for the past eight weeks of the regular season. If I did get put in that position, I feel like ‘Sizz’ and Judon did a good job of helping me during practice and showing what I can do better with.”
If the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with Eluemunor at left tackle, another possibility would be moving rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side — where he played at Oklahoma — and shifting right guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle, something the Ravens have done in the past. Needless to say, any alternative to Stanley at left tackle is far from ideal.
The good news for the offensive line is the anticipated return of left guard Alex Lewis, who is on track to play after a two-game absence. Lewis practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field against the Steelers. The 2016 fourth-round pick did start three games at left tackle in place of Stanley during his rookie year, but the Ravens would likely settle for just having him back at his usual position after his scary neck injury in Week 6.
“I felt good out there running around fast, playing fast. I’m going to go out and try to roll on Sunday,” Lewis said. “We tried to go last week. I just wasn’t ready. I still felt some pain back there, but it’s gone away now. We’ve strengthened the muscles around it, and we should be able to roll.”
The Ravens defense is also less than 100 percent as cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were all listed as questionable on the final injury report. After missing the last two games, Humphrey appears to have a good chance to return since he was able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.
Mosley’s status remains uncertain after the three-time Pro Bowl selection only returned to the practice field on a limited basis on Friday, but Jefferson made his intentions clear after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday sessions.
“I’m definitely playing. I wouldn’t miss this game for the world,” said Jefferson, who was a limited participant on Friday. “Last week’s behind us. It’s a new week and it’s Pittsburgh week, so not much that needs to be said about that. It’s our rival opponent. It’s going to be a tough-fought game, so we’re ready for it.”
Running back Alex Collins (foot) was a full participant in Friday’s practice after missing the previous day and was moving well during the portion of practice open to media. His availability eases the pressure on the just-acquired Ty Montgomery, who could make his Ravens debut after being acquired from Green Bay at the trade deadline.
Harbaugh is pleased with how quickly Montgomery has acclimated himself to the Baltimore playbook and views him as an option to contribute on both offense and special teams against the Steelers.
“The good thing is the terminology is somewhat similar [to the Packers],” Harbaugh said. “Not exactly; there are always different terms. But the systems are rooted in the same kind of background, so he has a very good understanding of the plays. And special teams are fine; he’ll have no problem with that. We’ll just have to see how the numbers work out.”
As Harbaugh noted, the Steelers are the healthier team for Week 9, but they are unlikely to have the services of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) for the second straight week after he was listed as doubtful. Pittsburgh cornerback Artie Burns was added to the injury report after hurting his ankle during Friday’s workout and is questionable to play.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not included in the final game status report despite having a fractured left index finger.
The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the high 50s and winds five to 10 miles per hour. There is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.
The Ravens will be wearing their alternate black jerseys for the first time this season to begin a crucial stretch of three straight home games.
Below is the final injury report of the week:
OUT: OT James Hurst (back), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), RB Alex Collins (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe), CB Artie Burns (ankle)