Ravens keeping guard up against Manuel, Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are confident backup quarterback EJ Manuel capably can replace the injured Derek Carr against the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Nonetheless, Carr's absence definitely is a boost for the Ravens. He has beaten Baltimore in each of the past two seasons, throwing for 550 yards with seven touchdown passes in those games.
Manuel was thrust into the starting role when Carr sustained a back injury last week against Denver and was ruled out for 2-to-6 weeks.
Baltimore (2-2) and Oakland (2-2) are looking to snap two-game losing streaks.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not alter the game plan preparing for Manuel as opposed to Carr.
"We will just prepare for the players that we are going to play against," Harbaugh said. "That is what you look at. There are certainly some things that EJ Manuel -- when you look back at his career -- does differently than Derek Carr. He is definitely going to run the same offense. They are not going to change the offense, there is no question about that."
Since being taken by the Buffalo Bills with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Manuel has appeared in 29 NFL games, including 17 starts. He showed some promise running the offense when he entered the game Sunday against Denver, going 11 of 17 for 106 yards and an interception.
Manuel played previously against the Ravens as a starter for Buffalo in 2013. He completed 10 of 22 pass attempts for 167 yards and an interception in the Bills' 23-20 victory.
"Derek Carr is Derek Carr. He has definitely come into his own, but EJ Manuel has also been an NFL quarterback, and I think the last time we played him, they beat us," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Say what you want, but they beat us. I think they are still going to try to win the game. It is going to be two teams coming off losses, and both teams are itching for a win."
The biggest challenge for Manuel might be having enough weapons on offense.
The status of wide receiver Michael Crabtree is uncertain after he missed the previous game with a chest injury, but coach Jack Del Rio is optimistic he could return. Fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back Marshawn Lynch have struggled to make plays this season.
Still, the Raiders expect Manuel to be effective against Baltimore.
"EJ is a star in this league," receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. "He's played for a long time and got drafted high in the first round for a reason. We all know what EJ can do. We're not impressed with the things he did on Sunday. We've seen that each and every day in practice. When the time comes, we know he's ready with all the work he's put in and the extra time. That's what quarterbacks do."
Baltimore is dealing with similar challenges.
After opening the season with a pair of dominant victories, the Ravens have struggled mightily over the past two weeks. The offense has been out of sync with Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda out for the year with an ankle injury.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for one touchdown with four interceptions and has been sacked six times over the losing streak. Flacco has taken full responsibility for the struggles, saying he need to throw the ball quicker and make smarter decisions.
"I think our confidence level can be higher," Flacco said. "The way we've played the past couple of weeks can definitely creep in and hurt that. We got to do the best we can that we believe in who we are as players and who we are as a football team, so we can go out there and play free. Once Sunday comes around, the team that usually wins is the team that can go out there and let it loose and we have to do a better job of doing that."
The Ravens have also been shut out in the first half the past two weeks, so there is a sense of urgency to start the game more effectively against the Raiders. They will face a big challenge trying to contain Oakland defensive ends Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards Jr., who have combined for seven sacks.
Defensively, the Ravens have allowed 339 yards on the ground in the past two games with nose tackle Brandon Williams out of the lineup with a foot injury. Williams was still unable to practice this week.
His absence could create an opportunity for Lynch to finally have a big game. He is ranked 33rd in the NFL with 151 yards on 45 carries with a touchdown.
Del Rio is expecting another hard-fought game.
"We have a good Ravens team that is coming in here," Del Rio said. "We played them the last two years. They're good in all three phases. We've had close games in each of the previous two years and it will be a heck of a battle this week."
Updated October 4, 2017