Five Second Half Questions for the Ravens
As the Ravens enter the bye week with a 6-3 record and atop the AFC North, the Ravens control their own destiny heading into the second half of the season. While the Ravens have played well up until this point having led by double digits in every game this season. There are still some questions the Ravens must sort out if they hope to make a push for a Lombardi trophy.
Lets look at the five biggest questions surrounding the Ravens through nine weeks.
The Ravens are much healthier at this point in 2022 then they were in 2021. Only three players are currently out for the season with injuries, wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot), cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee), and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (biceps). Safety Marcus Williams (wrist) has missed the last four games but according to head coach John Harbaugh is on pace to make a December return.
Running back J.K Dobbins (knee) missed the first two game of the season before making his season debut in week three against the Patriots. Dobbins played in weeks three through six before missing the last three games after having a minor surgery to clean up his surgically repaired knee. Dobbins could be back after the bye but word is that he will return within the next couple of weeks at the latest. Tight end Mark Andrews (knee/shoulder) missed the Ravens week nine win over the Saints but should be back by after the bye as well as running back Gus Edwards (hamstring) is also expected to return after the bye after missing last Monday’s game.
The Ravens have been getting healthier as Tyus Bowser made his season debut last week against the Saints and rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo is expected to make his season debut after the bye week. Rookie tight end Charlie Kolar had sports hernia surgery before training camp and had not practiced up until two weeks ago, Kolar was activated to the active roster last Tuesday. While the Ravens will miss the likes of Bateman and Pierce they are continuing to get healthier and with that comes more depth, which the Ravens will need for a strong playoff push. As long as the Ravens continue to stay healthy and avoid season ending injuries the sky is the limit for this Ravens team.
Through nine weeks Lamar Jackson has played at an MVP level. With injuries to some key players at key spots on the offense Jackson has willed the Ravens to six wins while rushing for over 630 yards, eight most in the NFL. But not only is Jackson running the ball, he’s running the ball with high efficiency. Jackson is averaging 7.4 yards per carry first in the NFL (min.10 attempts).
But while Jackson has been a force on the ground his overall numbers in the passing game have lacked. Jackson is currently 18th in the NFL having thrown for 1,768 yards with an average of 6.9 yards per attempt. However, while Jackson’s overall passing numbers are low he has thrown for 16 touchdowns, fourth most in the NFL. The most glaring issue as to why the Ravens have struggled in the passing came has been Jackson’s accuracy. Jackson has completed just 62.3% of his passes, 25th best in the NFL. Jackson carries some of the blame for the lack of an elite passing offense, but there is some blame to be had from the receiving core.
The lack of an elite receiver outside of tight end Mark Andrews has made it hard for Jackson to find open receivers that can make difficult and contested catches. Devin Duvernay has been the best wide receiver on the roster, even before Bateman was ruled out for the season. With 25 catches for 318 yards, and three touchdowns, Duvernay is the only wide receiver with multiple touchdowns and over 20 receptions. The Ravens have had one of the best rushing attacks over the last four weeks, but to win in the playoffs the Ravens must become better in the passing game.
The Ravens secondary is much improved since last season in which they ranked last in passing defense. With a healthy Marcus Peters and a healthy Marlon Humphrey the defense had nine interceptions, tied for fifth in the NFL. But, while the Ravens have looked much better in recent weeks they still currently rank 28th in passing defense giving up an average of just under 260 passing yards per game. The Ravens have remained fairly healthy thus far minus the absence of safety Marcus Williams who is expected to return sometime in December, and Kyle Fuller who tore his ACL in week one.
As the season progresses the Ravens will have to continue on the upward trend that they are on if they wish to beat some of the top passing teams in the NFL. The improvement of the pass rush has helped the secondary as well with Justin Houston who has 8.5 sacks, tied for second in the NFL. Health will be the key for this position group. As was seen in 2021 depth at the secondary position is important, and the play of Geno Stone filling in for Marcus Williams and the week to week improvement of Kyle Hamilton has been a positive for a secondary that relies on a group efforts.
The Ravens 2022 draft class was an important one for GM Eric DeCosta. With holes to fill whomever was drafted by the Ravens was expected to make an impact this season. Cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams and tight end Isaiah Likely while not given a ton of opportunities have made the most of the snaps they have been given thus far. Williams has stepped in at cornerback in key situations throughout the year thus far and has played well totaling 21 tackles, one tackle for loss, and two pass deflections. Isaiah Likely after an impressive preseason had Ravens fans with high hopes coming into the regular season. But Likely failed to record his first catch until week five against the Bengals. Likely has filled in nicely with Mark Andrews being injured, recording a career high six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown after coming in for an injured Andrews against the Buccaneers. Likely followed up his breakout game against the Buccaneers by catching another touchdown last Monday against the Saints. With Andrews injuries not expected to sideline him much longer its positive to see Likely could have a place within the Ravens offense in the second half of the season.
The two biggest impact rookies this season should be no surprise as they were the first two picks the Ravens had in the first round. Center Tyler Linderbaum and safety Kyle Hamilton, are continuing to improve each week and will need to do so as they were two picks made by the Ravens to play meaningful football late in the season. Linberbaum as played all but two offensive snaps this year and has only allowed two sacks, while also recording only three penalties. Linderbaum has been key in helping the Ravens become the number two rushing offense in the NFL. While Hamilton does not start like Linderbaum, he still plays over 50% of the defensive snaps. Hamilton 25 total tackles, one sack, two pass deflections, and one forced fumble. Hamilton’s length and range makes him a versatile safety that has allowed defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to play him all over the field. After a bit of a slow start, Hamilton is coming into his own and could be an important complimentary depth piece on a fully healthy defense once safety Marcus Williams returns.
Cornerback Jayln Armour-Davis has played sparingly, mostly on special teams totaling just six tackles and one pass deflection in four games played.
Tight End Charlie Kolar, and outside linebacker David Ojabo have both been activated off of IR and both are expected to make their season debuts after the bye week. Ojabo’s debut is the most anticipated, and with the Ravens defense looking much improved, Ojabo could become a key piece on this Ravens defense moving forward this season.
Rookie running back Tyler Badie is the only rookie drafted that is currently on the practice squad, but could see time later in the year based on the continued health of the other Ravens running backs.
The Ravens are 6-3 with their only three losses coming against the 6-3 Miami Dolphins, the 6-2 New York Giants, and the AFC leading 6-2 Buffalo Bills. The Ravens have had one of the hardest schedules in the NFL through the first nine weeks. But with eight games left the Ravens have the NFL’s easiest schedule remaining with their combined opponents record being 8-18. The Ravens currently don’t face a team with a winning record until the final game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, who the Ravens defeated 19-17 in week five.
Six out of the eight remaining games for the Ravens are against teams that are two games or more below .500, with three of the next five against teams that are three or more games below .500. While the Ravens have some things to clean up and are in no way a perfect team. The second half of season should allow the Ravens to stack wins, hopefully making the outcome of the season finale against the Bengals irrelevant in terms of playoff seeding.
The Ravens hit the field again to take on the 2-7 Panthers at home next Sunday at 1 P.M.