After Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his second practice in less than week on Wednesday, coach John Harbaugh spoke as coyly as possible about the reason for the absence.
“We had an issue from the game,” Harbaugh told reporters after practice, just before the Ravens public relations staff published the team’s NFL-mandated daily injury report, which added a significant detail.
Jackson, it turns out, is dealing with a hip injury — a potentially troubling sign for the AFC North-leading Ravens (7-3) as they enter the final third of a regular season that’s already been marred by multiple injuries at key positions across the roster. But Harbaugh squashed any thoughts of a worst-case scenario with the Ravens’ offensive engine, saying the injury was not serious enough to keep Jackson out of Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at TIAA Bank Field in Florida.
“He’s going to play in the game,” Harbaugh said. “I just wanted to hold him back and let him rest today.”
While the Jaguars are the second-straight three-win opponent for the Ravens, suggesting on first blush that a banged-up Ravens unit could grind past them like they did last Sunday against the lowly Carolina Panthers, that might not necessarily be the case.
The Ravens are only a 3.5-point betting favorite against Jacksonville (compared to a nearly two-touchdown favorite last Sunday). The Jaguars have a stout defensive front and a better overall offense, which presents some unique challenges. The biggest is second-year running back Travis Etienne, who ranks in the top five in the NFL in yards per rush at 5.5. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Clemson, is also capable.
Ravens veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell said the Ravens coaches compared Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson, to New Orleans Saints back Alvin Kamara, but faster.
“That’s a good comparison,” Campbell said, “because he really has that kind of balance where he’s just a tough tackle, but then that acceleration is so unique. He has pretty good vision. He’s an all-around back. He’s special.”
With a win, the Ravens will at least maintain their division lead and extend their current streak to five consecutive victories, and they could also strengthen their playoff positioning depending on the outcome of other games. The Ravens are currently ranked fourth overall in the AFC, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (8-2), Buffalo Bills (8-3) — who were winners on Thanksgiving afternoon against the Detroit Lions — and the Tennessee Titans (7-3). A loss, meanwhile, would quickly drop the Ravens closer to on-the-bubble status for the postseason, with only six games left on the schedule.
This is all to say that while a 1 p.m. Sunday tilt against the Jaguars isn’t a matchup of the highly-hyped primetime variety, the stakes are still significant.
Especially when other injuries have been piling up and down the roster for weeks.
The Ravens banged-up list includes would-be starting running back J.K. Dobbins, still recovering from surgery on his repaired knee several weeks ago; short-yardage back Gus Edwards (hamstring/knee); top wideout Rashod Bateman (broken foot); tight end Mark Andrews (shoulder and knee injuries, although he says he feels “great” now); left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), and defensive back Kyle Hamilton (leg), both injured against Carolina.
Jackson — who has been mostly remarkably durable in his career, given the hits he takes and initiates — has mostly avoided significant physical damage in 2022, but it’s not the first time he’s landed on the injury report with a hip issue this season. The same thing happened five weeks ago before a game against the Cleveland Browns. He played in that one and appears on course for Sunday. Jackson practiced in full on Thanksgiving morning and Friday. “It’s getting better,” he said Friday. Jackson also indicated the injury, which was different than the one earlier in the season, hampered him during Sunday’s game against Carolina. When asked Friday if it bothered him, he paused, then offered: “It was all right. We won.”
Still, the sight of the team drilling without the franchise quarterback in uniform for any length is unsettling as a run at the playoffs continues.
If for some reason Jackson can’t play on Sunday, backup quarterback Tyler “Snoop” Huntley will be called on like he was in spots last year, including three starts in the final few weeks after Jackson’s season-ending high ankle sprain made for a sad punctuation mark on another season upended by injuries. The Ravens — who were the top seed in the entire AFC on Nov. 28 last year — lost six in a row to end the year and missed the postseason, though Huntley proved an effective fill-in for the multitalented Jackson.
“It’s a little different,” Andrews, Jackson’s favorite passing target, said Wednesday after not having him on the practice field. “Obviously, ‘Snoop’ has learned a ton from Lamar. He’s an incredible player — I think you guys have seen that time and time again — so we get very good looks with both quarterbacks.”
The better news for the Ravens is their defense has been improving — “They’re absolutely balling out,” Andrews said — to the point that people are now asking questions about how dominant the unit can be. It limited Carolina to 205 yards and has allowed no more than 300 in four of the last seven games. The trade deadline acquisition of linebacker Roquan Smith, a bonafide run-stopper, has already helped the production of fellow inside backer Patrick Queen. Queen had 12 total tackles last Sunday, taking pressure off everyone else.
“Sometimes chemistry is like love at first sight,” Harbaugh said. “To me, it’s kind of that way with those two guys. They are working well together, and it’s only going to get better. I just love the way they’re playing.”
The Jaguars should be fresh and are significantly healthier than the Ravens. Jacksonville is coming off its bye week, like the Ravens were last week, and has no major injuries limiting the practice time of anyone — a rare thing for an NFL team at this point of the season.
That offensive talent is directed by Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson and the Jaguars defense is middle-of-the-road statistically, more evidence that a poor win-loss record is deceiving. Edge rusher Josh Allen is probably the Jaguars’ best overall defensive player, and could present problems. Harbaugh isn’t taking them lightly.
“I’ve heard it said, this is the best 3-7 team,” Harbaugh said. “This is a young team, they’ve lost a bunch of games by one [score], they have a bunch of physical players, a physical offensive line. Their quarterback was the No. 1 pick in the draft. They have a great back and wide receivers. The defensive front seven is just outstanding; they’re very physical. It’s going to be a very, very physical football game, much like the last game.”
- Stanley will likely not play on Sunday, while Hamilton will be game-time decision, Harbaugh said.
- Edwards practiced in full on Thursday, suggesting the bruising back will make his first game appearance in a month.
- Wideout Demarcus Robinson, the Ravens leading receiver against the Panthers, sat out Thursday’s practice with a hip injury.
- Safety Marcus Williams — who signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the team in free-agency, then dislocated his wrist in the Ravens’ Week 5 game against Cincinnati — was activated from the injured reserve list on Wednesday, and could return in a week or two. “The wrist will heal,” Harbaugh said, “We just need to make sure he’s in football shape.”
- The Ravens have a 7-3 record for only the fifth time in franchise history. The other occasions were 2004, 2010, 2011 and last season.
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.