The Ravens’ biggest loss wasn’t on the scoreboard Thursday night.
The 34-23 defeat to Cincinnati was surely disappointing, but the absence of three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could bring bigger consequences than a divisional defeat. It remains unclear how much time he’ll miss after sustaining a bone bruise in his left knee on the first defensive series of the game.
After Mosley limped off the field at the conclusion of that initial three-and-out for the Baltimore defense, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their next four possessions as former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young manned the inside linebacker spots.
“That’s your middle linebacker. We’ve got two young guys in there playing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They played hard, they fought, but they didn’t play perfect. That’s going to hurt you for sure. It hurt us with the coverage underneath mostly, a little bit in the run game.”
Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, has impressed early and looked poised to wrest the starting job away from Onwuasor sooner than later, but both lack experience. Depending on how much time Mosley is expected to miss, the Ravens could re-sign veteran Albert McClellan or add another linebacker with experience. They could also use more sub packages featuring safety Tony Jefferson or dime back Anthony Levine in the box, but the complications run deeper than simply replacing Mosley’s play.
One of the much-discussed developments of the offseason was new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale giving more pre-snap responsibility to veterans like Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to adjust defensive alignments, blitzes, and coverages based on what the opponent shows them at the line of scrimmage. It certainly makes sense to take advantage of players’ wisdom, but there was always the question of how an in-game injury might impact that process.
More than one veteran in the post-game locker room acknowledged some on-field confusion after Mosley’s exit as Onwuasor relayed calls in the defensive huddle from the sideline for the rest of the first half. Safety Eric Weddle took over the role in the third quarter as the defense seemed to find its footing and allowed only six more points.
“It’s not an excuse why we lost,” said Weddle, who also relayed defensive calls in the huddle at times when he played for San Diego. “When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that’s just going to happen. You dig yourself a hole. Hopefully, C.J. won’t be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It’s too far of a hole when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to play.”
The only extended action Mosley has missed in his NFL career was due to a hamstring injury in 2016. He sustained the injury in the second half of a Week 5 loss to Washington and missed the next two games, which were losses to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.
Stanley also ailing
Mosley wasn’t the only key player to leave Thursday’s game as left tackle Ronnie Stanley went to the sideline with 2:18 to play and didn’t return.
Stanley said he was “fine” after the game, but he wouldn’t discuss what happened or whether he would miss any time, deferring injury questions to Harbaugh. He appeared to grab his right arm after trying to block Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a Joe Flacco incomplete pass to Buck Allen, and NFL Network’s field microphone also picked up a player screaming at the same time.
Starting right tackle James Hurst moved to left tackle for the final 12 plays of the game with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. entering on the right side. Stanley looked to be favoring his right arm on the sideline as well as in the post-game locker room, but the lack of extensive medical attention after his departure and his availability to reporters after the game are signs that the injury may not be serious.
According to NFL Network, the Ravens worked out interior offensive linemen Wesley Johnson, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan on Saturday to address their concerns inside, so they can hardly afford to be without their starting left tackle for any amount of time.
Road woes continue
Since their 2014 postseason win over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have gone 8-17 in regular-season away games.
Those road wins have come against the following starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick in his final season, Josh McCown (twice), Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. You never apologize for the level of competition you face as injuries are part of the game, but when Dalton is the best signal-caller the Ravens have beaten in over three years and he’s won five of the last six meetings against them in Cincinnati, they can’t exactly claim to be road warriors anytime soon.
The Ravens are scheduled to face Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in their seven remaining road games. Five of those quarterbacks have been to Pro Bowls.