Believe it or not, but right now, the Baltimore Ravens with a 5-4 record are the frontrunners in the AFC North, albeit with a tenuous grasp on that position. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a game back at 4-5, though the Ravens have a game in hand over them. The Bengals, meanwhile, are still lurking, and play Baltimore twice before the season is over, plus another game against Pittsburgh.
If the Ravens intend to hold on to their division lead over the stretch of the remaining season, they will have to do so while continuing to shuffle the deck chairs along their offensive line, as pretty much every starting offensive lineman has missed some time for them already this year, and they suffered another blow during their Thursday Night victory over the Browns.
After losing two quality starters through free agency and release/retirement, the Ravens remade the left side of their offensive line through the draft. While they just got rookie first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley back—and he has struggled against Pittsburgh and Cleveland—they have now lost left guard Alex Lewis for potentially the remainder of the season, especially if they fail to make the playoffs.
A fourth-round draft pick out of Nebraska, Lewis has started eight of nine games for Baltimore, excepting the Week Four loss to Oakland. Other than center Jeremy Zuttah, who has missed just one snap this season, Lewis has been one of just two linemen for Baltimore to play even 80 percent of the snaps, and he was second with 83 percent.
But Lewis sustained a high ankle sprain that Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said he expects to sideline the rookie starter for an extended period of time, throwing out the six weeks figure that can give or take a couple of weeks.
The Ravens have been playing musical chairs along the offensive line all season, with Stanley missing over half of the season by this point. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has missed some time, and may continue to miss time going forward. He has missed three of the past four games, and Harbaugh did not update his situation.
Baltimore will have to turn to third-year veteran John Urschel, who has actually already started three games this season. He also started three games in his rookie season, and seven games last year, with most of his starts coming in place of Zuttah at center.
There is a reason that Lewis won the starting job over Urschel, but the Ravens could do worse. Still, it is another compounding problem to their offensive woes, and a further complication in the rookie season of Stanley to change who is working next to him.
If Yanda continues to miss time, the Ravens will be down both of their starting guards, which would present a significant liability up the middle, especially against penetration interior players, since that is an area that Zuttah has struggled with. Communication breakdowns are imminent with such lineup changes.