Injuries leave Ravens in uncertain hands

Losing Stallworth and Clayton are major blows to team

August 29, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

Ravens fans, I come to you today highly conflicted about your football team.

I come to you with good news and bad news. This being Baltimore, the home office of gloom and doom, let's get the bad news out of the way first.

Bad news item No. 1: Donte' Stallworth has a broken foot. The speedy wide receiver broke it in the Ravens' 24-10 drubbing of the New York Giants on Saturday night. He's expected to be out at least a couple of months as surgeons attempt to insert a screw to help the bone heal.

This is no small thing. Sure, Stallworth was considered the No. 4 wide receiver. But he's much faster than anyone on the Ravens thought he would be. Much quicker, too. And the Ravens were fired up about all the ways they planned to use him in their passing attack.

"It's a shame," quarterback Joe Flacco said of the injury. "He's been doing a great job for us, and we've been excited about it."

Which brings us to bad news item No. 2: Mark Clayton was also hurt Saturday night, taking a hit to the head from Giants safety Antrel Rolle. And Clayton, you'll recall, is the Ravens' No. 3 wide receiver.

So in the span of 30 minutes in the first half of a meaningless preseason game, the Ravens lost two key offensive weapons. And the NFL wants to add two regular-season games to the schedule? Good luck with that plan. Better have an army of orthopedists and neurosurgeons on standby.

As of Sunday, the diagnosis is that Clayton had a mild concussion. But who knows how "mild" the concussion really is? It reminds me of the old definition of minor surgery: any surgery on someone other than you.

Let's face it, if Clayton is throwing up and having headaches and vision problems right now, he's probably not thinking, "Well, at least it's a mild concussion."

You never know how long you'll be out with a concussion, either. He almost certainly won't play in the team's last preseason game against the Rams in St. Louis on Thursday night.

Will he be ready for the Sept. 13 opener against the New York Jets in the New Meadowlands Stadium, or whatever they're calling it? Who knows? We'll learn more about his situation this week.

If there's a silver lining in this whole mess, it's that it gives the Ravens a chance to implement their vaunted "Next Man Up" philosophy.

Who'll step up to join Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason with Stallworth and Clayton sidelined?

Is this finally the time when Demetrius Williams sheds his bone china image and starts making big plays? Maybe. But it would be nice to see him in a game first. He sat out Saturday night with a sprained right ankle.

Is it time for Marcus Smith, who spent last season on injured reserve with a bad knee, to emerge? Or how about David Reed, the fifth-round choice in April's draft who looked so good catching the ball in organized team activities and so bad in the beginning of training camp?

You hope somebody steps up. Because the really good news to come out of the Ravens' third preseason win was this: The Ravens' offense looked terrific.

The Ravens went with a lot of no-huddle and threw 32 times in the first half alone. Flacco looked quick and energetic in the pocket and was a joy to watch, completing 21 of 34 passes and spreading the ball around.

"We were clicking on all cylinders," Flacco said. "It felt good to spread the ball around and see guys making plays."

There was plenty of that. Tight end Todd Heap caught six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Boldin caught four passes for 52 yards and a TD. Mason caught five passes for 25 yards.

Sure, it was only a preseason game. And sure, the Giants have their problems. But the no-huddle offense worked like a charm.

I'm not saying it was the Chesapeake Bay version of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. But it was something to see. Especially when the offense looked so moribund a week earlier against the Washington Redskins.

"It was a good tempo for us," Flacco said. "We're not subbing, the defense has to stay out there on the field [and] they're sucking a little more wind than we are. It just takes away their pass rush."

Added Heap: "Something we really want to do this season is set the tempo. It's fun when you're moving the ball, when you're staying out on the field, when you're putting drives together. That's kind of what we're working toward."

Now they have to do it without Stallworth for two months. And Clayton for who knows how long.

It'll be a challenge.

Then again, so is every season in the NFL.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox1370 AM Sports.

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