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Five Reasons Ravens Are Trending Up Following Bye

(From left to right) RB Gus Edwards & QB Lamar Jackson
(From left to right) RB Gus Edwards & QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens (6-3) have returned from their bye with plenty of optimism, riding a three-game winning streak with eight games to play.

Here are five reasons the Ravens are trending up heading into the second half of the season:

Their Rushing Attack Looks Lethal

Baltimore enters Week 11 with the league's second-best rushing attack averaging 168.1 yards per game, even though Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins have missed significant time. Kenyan Drake has stepped up to lead the backs in rushing yards (344) averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and Lamar Jackson (635 yards) is on is on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards for the third time in his career.

However, imagine how formidable the Ravens' rushing attack might be if Edwards and Dobbins are both healthy down the stretch. Edwards hopes to return Sunday against the Panthers, while Dobbins is expected back in several weeks.

There isn't a rushing attack in the NFL that stresses defenses in as many ways as Baltimore's does. Meanwhile, the return of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley has taken an offensive line that was already playing well to another level. Each week, offensive linemen and Pro Bowl fullback Pat Ricard are paving running lanes for ballcarriers. That gives Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman freedom to dial up even more blocking schemes and multiple formations that can keep defenses off balance.

When the weather turns inclement late in the season, or when trying to protect a lead late in games, a potent run game is a huge advantage. The Ravens have one.

Baltimore's Schedule Appears Favorable

The Bengals (5-4) are the only team left on Baltimore's schedule that is currently above .500. On paper, the schedule shapes up far more favorably than last year, when the injury-riddled Ravens faced a series of playoff-bound teams down the stretch, resulting in a six-game losing streak that dropped Baltimore out of the playoff picture. 

It's dangerous to overlook any opponent, especially divisional opponents like the Steelers, who have a four-game winning streak against Baltimore and the Browns, who will have quarterback Deshaun Watson back from his 11-game suspension when they host the Ravens in Week 15. However, Jackson is 22-3 against teams with losing records since he became Baltimore's starting quarterback during the 2018 season.

The Ravens lead the AFC North, and if they continue to feast on sub-.500 teams, challenging for the No. 1 seed is a realistic possibility. However, Jackson said he won't be looking past any game on the schedule.

"I can't sleep on our opponents; we haven't won the Super Bowl yet," Jackson said. "We have to keep taking it one game at a time, a play at a time."

Baltimore's Defense Could Be Peaking

It's not a stretch to think the Ravens could have a top defense from this point on. They added an All-Pro inside linebacker in Roquan Smith at the trade deadline who adds a ripple effect to the unit. He's a playmaker as a run-stopper, pass defender and blitzer. Smith made an impact in his first game with Baltimore against the Saints, and he figures to play even faster once he learns Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald's entire scheme.

"I'm going to get accustomed, and it's going to be scary after I get it all down pat," Smith said. "I love the way Mike calls the game, so I think there's going to be so many great things in store for us." 

The Ravens can attack teams defensively on all three levels. The line is deep with Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike, and Broderick Washington all having at least 21 tackles. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen leads the team in tackles and can play even more aggressively next to Smith. The pass rush has been formidable led by Justin Houston (8.5 sacks), who's having a vintage season at age 33. The Ravens have arguably the league's deepest secondary with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters leading the corners, and a superb safety rotation. Chuck Clark and Geno Stone have formed an excellent starting combo until Marcus Williams returns, and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton is playing himself into a larger role.

The Ravens' defense is deep and getting stronger, which is an excellent sign moving forward.

Reinforcements Are Coming

In New Orleans, Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser stepped in seamlessly in his first game back from his Achilles injury. Rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo (Achilles) should be joining the action soon and starting safety Marcus Williams (wrist) is expected back sometime in December.

Even without Williams, who still leads the team with three interceptions, the Ravens are third in the NFL with 16 takeaways and the pass rush should only get better once Bowser gets even more comfortable and Ojabo joins the party.

The Ravens Have Quality Depth

Isaiah Likely has played well at tight end while All-Pro Mark Andrews (shoulder/knee) has been out of the lineup. Patrick Mekari was invaluable as a backup offensive lineman before Stanley returned. Stone has stepped up as a starter and played steady football in place of Williams. Wide receivers Demarcus Williams and James Proche II have looked confident accepting bigger roles since No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman went down.

Losing Bateman for the season due to Lisfranc surgery was a huge blow, and every team faces the uncertainty of injuries. But the Ravens' resiliency over the past two years has been tested, and they have proven they have quality depth at many positions. If the Ravens can stay reasonably healthy the rest of the season, there is little reason to think they can't play their way into the postseason.

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