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Ravens will miss Marshal Yanda and Brandon Williams

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Can the Jaguars control the trenches?

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Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens are set to square off on Sunday in London, as they begin the Sunday slate of football. But unfortunately for Baltimore, the Ravens will be without two of their best interior players — Marshal Yanda on offense and Brandon Williams on defense.

Yanda fractured his ankle against the Cleveland Browns last week, and is done for the season. Williams is dealing with a foot injury, and has been ruled out for his Week 3 date with the Jaguars. Williams also suffered the injury against the Browns, and did not travel to London with his team.

But just how big of a loss are these two players for the Ravens? Well, pretty substantial. Yanda is a six-time Pro Bowler, two-time first team All-Pro and three-time second team All-Pro. Williams is a very good run-stuffer and a key part of Baltimore’s defense.

In fact, Williams has been excellent through the first two weeks of 2017. In Week 1, Pro Football Focus graded him out at 89.6. PFF included him on its Defensive Team of the Week for Week 1 as well. Though Williams was forced to leave after just 19 snaps in the second game, his current grade of 85.4 through two weeks ranks eighth amongst all interior defensive linemen, and he is grouped in the “High Quality” tier.

Yanda was also forced to leave early last Sunday, as he exited very early in the second half. Though, he still grades out nicely with an 84.4 mark, which ranks him as the No. 7 guard. In 2016, Yanda was incredible. He was rated as the No. 1 pass-blocking guard in 2016, with a grade of 91.6.

Additionally, the former Iowa Hawkeye was ranked as the No. 1 guard in terms of pass-blocking efficiency last year— with an exceptional score of 99.2. Yanda has not allowed a sack since Week 7 of 2015.

Yanda is one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the league. Football Outsiders listed him as No. 15 in the league at snaps per blown block rate, with a 128.3 mark. So, that means, on average, Yanda can almost go 130 straight plays without completely missing an assignment.

Obviously, the Ravens have a lot to replace on both sides of the ball. Williams plays defensive tackle in Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme as a three-technique. Without his presence, Baltimore’s run defense is likely to suffer. Carl Davis played decently in Williams’ place last week, though, and I would expect him to see a lot of action this week.

Tony Bergstrom is Yanda’s replacement, and is now listed as the first-team right guard on Baltimore’s depth chart. He’s started four games in his career, with 42 appearances.

Update: Bergstrom was a surprise inactive for the Ravens. Matt Skura, who was an undrafted free agent in 2016, started the game at right guard.

Jacksonville will need to take advantage of Baltimore not having Williams in there plugging gaps and causing havoc. The Jaguars struggled to run the ball in Week 2, after doing so fairly well in the first game. Even without Williams, Baltimore’s defense is still extremely tough as a unit — with players like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle — and have forced 10 turnovers in two games (including eight interceptions). Nose tackle Michael Pierce, though not well-known, is no slouch, either.

If the Jaguars want to win this game, the offensive line is going to have to control the trenches. Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory are going to have gain yards after contact against a defense only allowing 85 yards per game on the ground. Historically, this series has often come down to one score and has had plenty of low-scoring affairs. As is the case so often in football, the team that is able to control the clock and get a better push in the trenches is likely walking a way with a victory.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens are not going to be able to replace Yanda with Bergstrom, or anybody else. It just can’t be done. But Jacksonville’s defensive line must exploit the weakness.

After a week 1 that included 10 sacks and just 93 yards given up on the ground and 203 yards allowed total against the Houston Texans, the Jaguars were thrashed by the Tennessee Titans for 179 rushing yards and 390 total yards. The unit also only recorded one sack. Again, the Jaguars must win in the trenches on defense as well by collapsing the pocket, hitting the quarterback and stuffing the run.

Losing Yanda for the season is devastating for the Ravens and Yanda himself, and keep in mind the Ravens had already lost their other projected starter at guard, Alex Lewis, during the preseason. Not having Williams available is never ideal, either. But it is reality, and Jacksonville must be able to take advantage of the Ravens being without two of their top players.