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Four Ravens questions for second half of regular season

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

The Ravens are off to a 6-3 — or better — start for the fourth straight season and the 11th time in franchise history, advancing to the playoffs in eight of those previous 10 years with 2004 and last year being the lone exceptions. 

In other words, expectations are high, but below are four questions for the second half of the regular season: 

How healthy will Baltimore be down the stretch?

By this time last year, John Harbaugh’s team had already lost Marcus Peters, Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Derek Wolfe, DeShon Elliott, and L.J. Fort to season-ending injuries and was doing an admirable job overcoming those absences until Lamar Jackson and Marlon Humphrey went down in early December and the Ravens lost their final six games. The 2022 team has endured its own share of injuries, of course, but the list of season-ending ones isn’t as extensive with Rashod Bateman, Michael Pierce, and Kyle Fuller being the most notable. 

Dobbins and Marcus Williams are expected to return from injured reserve in the coming weeks, but the Ravens otherwise have their full assortment of players available for the second half with a handful — headlined by Mark Andrews — coming off pre-bye ailments. The recent activations of Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo have transformed outside linebacker from one of the roster’s lightest position groups to one of the deepest, but Baltimore still lacks established depth at cornerback and wide receiver, which will be something to monitor the rest of the way.  

The Ravens are certainly a healthier team than the cursed outfit from last year. But like any other contender, they’re only an injury or two at the wrong position away from being in an unsettling spot. 

Will the defense live up to great expectations? 

Purple supporters pondered this group’s potential as various defensive players returned from injury over the first half of the season, but expectations went through the roof when Eric DeCosta sent 2023 second- and fifth-round picks to Chicago for two-time second-team All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith at the trade deadline.   

The Ravens turned in their best defensive performance of the season in Smith’s debut and are sixth in takeaways and eighth in sacks, but Mike Macdonald’s defense still ranks 17th in points per game allowed, 19th in yards per play allowed, eighth in yards per carry allowed, and 24th in yards per pass attempt coming out of the bye week. Football Outsiders ranks Baltimore 12th in defensive DVOA, 11th in pass defense DVOA, and 19th in run defense DVOA, and the Ravens still rank 12th in defensive DVOA even if you remove the Miami debacle from their body of work.  

ravensdefensestats
(Statistics entering Week 11)

After much hype, it’s time for this Ravens defense to take the next step. 

Considering the resources devoted to each level of the unit and the remaining slate of opposing offenses, the Ravens being anything less than a top five defense the rest of the way would be viewed by many as a disappointment. 

Does this passing game have enough upside? 

Even at its best, run-heavy Baltimore shouldn’t be judged on passing volume, making its No. 27 ranking in passing yards per game less relevant than a more respectable standing of 17th in yards per pass attempt. 

The Ravens still rank a surprising third in passing DVOA through Week 10, but that efficiency number drops to 19th after the first three weeks of the season when Jackson looked like the early MVP favorite with 10 touchdown passes and an average of 8.5 yards per pass attempt and Bateman was healthy. The superstar quarterback has thrown six touchdowns and averaged just 6.03 yards per throw over the last six games. According to Sharp Football, after completing 10 passes of 20 or more yards over the first three weeks of the season, the Ravens have only eight since then, tied for the fewest in the league.

Baltimore will welcome the outstanding Andrews back with open arms, but rookie tight end Isaiah Likely needs to be a more meaningful contributor going forward since this wide receiver group lacks upside beyond Devin Duvernay and maybe the 35-year-old DeSean Jackson, who hurt his hamstring in limited action in his season debut two weeks ago. Perhaps a surprise Odell Beckham Jr. signing still looms, but very few are holding their breath for that. 

With one of the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive lines in front of him, Jackson is more than capable of heating up to the degree we saw in September, but does he have enough pass-catching help to sustain that? 

Yes, the Ravens are back to running the ball better than anyone in the NFL not named Chicago, but that alone has yet to translate to a deep playoff run. It probably won’t matter for the remainder of the regular season, but this team is going to need more from the passing game at some point to get where it wants to go in the playoffs. 

How will the second-half schedule test Baltimore’s mettle for January? 

Even after blowing double-digit leads in each of their three losses, the Ravens are a really good football team and only the fifth outfit in the Super Bowl era to hold a lead of 10-plus points in each of a season’s first nine games, reflecting how dominant they’ve looked at times.

With a one-game lead over Cincinnati and one of the league’s easiest remaining schedules on paper, they have little excuse not to win the AFC North, especially with the Bengals already being 0-3 in the division and sporting one of the NFL’s toughest remaining slates. But how well will that remaining schedule prepare Harbaugh’s group for a deep playoff run? What will we learn about a Ravens team that won’t face an opponent currently sporting a winning record — or even as much as a .450 winning percentage — until Week 18? 

To be perfectly clear, the Bengals would trade positions in a heartbeat and the Ravens shouldn’t apologize for the teams on their second-half schedule, especially after navigating one of the league’s more difficult lineups of opponents over the first two months. But it’s tough to say what will be on the line by the time Baltimore travels to Cincinnati for Week 18. Of course, the Ravens hope to still be in contention for the AFC’s top seed by then.

None of this is to assume the Ravens will simply run the table in this crazy week-to-week league as they still have three AFC North road games ahead, but you have to wonder if a tougher test or two between now and January might benefit a team with aspirations extending beyond a division title and playoff berth. Only time will tell that story, of course.

In the meantime, enjoy a second-half ride that should include plenty of victories.

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