Tuesday, November 22, 2016
By Joe Platania
November 21, 2016
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Marshal Yanda was the Ravens' media Most Valuable Player last year due to his omnipresence and efficiency at right guard.
But what has made the five-time Pro Bowl pick one of the best players in team history is that he has displayed the same qualities up and down the offensive line.
In 2010, when supplemental draft pick Jared Gaither incurred a training camp back injury, Yanda quietly and selflessly moved to right tackle and stayed there for 16 regular-season games and two postseason contests.
After returning to right guard the following year, he was called upon to move back to tackle for a key November game against Pittsburgh, and he again distinguished himself as the Ravens converted 14-of-21 third-down plays and won a key road game.
In the 2014 season finale, with Rick Wagner out with a foot injury, Yanda again put the team before himself and helped the Ravens beat Cleveland, 20-10, to clinch a playoff berth.
And on Nov. 20 in Dallas, Yanda put into motion his own plan to switch to left guard, protecting his injured left shoulder on which he sports a harness.
Yanda played all 52 offensive snaps and paced an offense that posted a season-high 7.1 yards per play during a 27-17 loss to the streaking Cowboys.
The performance from the 2007 third-round pick was a big talking point for head coach John Harbaugh as his 5-5 team battles inconsistency heading into the season's second half, which begins with the first of two games against AFC North rival Cincinnati Nov. 27.
"He got out of it really well," Harbaugh said. "In some ways, it's sort of like, you're [a] left-handed [hitter], and now you're on the other side of the plate.
"You're placing your other hand down and you've got your other foot back. ... You're setting for the left side instead of the right. All the plays are flipped. I was wary of it early in the week."
With a mediocre record, the bigger picture for Harbaugh is trying to capture another AFC North crown, which would be his third and the team's fifth.
One saving grace to the Ravens' spotty performance so far this year is the fact they are 3-0 against division foes.
But that comes with two caveats: the division is noticeably down this year, and two of the wins were against the winless Cleveland Browns.
"We look at this as a six-game season," Harbaugh said. "And, in some ways, this is like our opener. ... We know everything is right in front of us. This is an opportunity to win the division."
The way this year's schedule was laid out, all three of the Ravens' AFC North home games were slated for November. Two of them are already out of the way, with Baltimore having beaten Pittsburgh and Cleveland in a five-day span earlier this month.
But an intriguing game awaits with Cincinnati, a team struggling at 3-6-1 and sucker-punched with injuries to standout receiver A.J. Green (strained hamstring) and running back Giovani Bernard (ACL tear). Neither is likely to play against the Ravens.
Green has been a particular challenge, having posted 41 career catches and six touchdowns during eight games against Baltimore, averaging 17.7 yards per reception, more than any other opposing receiver in team history.
For perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Jimmy Smith averaged 15.8 yards per catch in 15 games against Baltimore from 1996-2005 and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward posted a 12.2-yard rate in 26 games against the Ravens from 1998-2011.
Green is a major reason why the Bengals have won five straight and six of the last seven games against the Ravens; the lifetime series between the teams is tied (20-20).
"If we don't start beating the Bengals, we're not going to win any division championships," Harbaugh said. "That's especially true this year."
However, the situations aren't as clear regarding two key Ravens, linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), who has played in just two games this year, and cornerback Jimmy Smith (back).
Harbaugh said he will leave it up to team doctors to see if they return.
Tight end Nick Boyle's 10-game suspension is up, and he will return to the practice field this week, but there is no clear determination on whether he will play against Cincinnati. Tackle James Hurst has been used as a third tight end the past two weeks.
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