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Five Things To Watch In Season's Second Half


After four days off for the players, the Ravens reconvened at the Under Armour Performance Center for the second half of the season Monday.

The Ravens have their sights set on an 8-0 run, which they think is entirely possible despite the heaps of injuries the team has sustained.

Here are five issues to watch as the season's second half kicks off:

1)      How will the passing game perform without Steve Smith Sr.?

Smith has nearly the same production, or more in some categories, as all of the Ravens' receivers combined so far this season. Without question, he was the team's top offensive playmaker. Now Kamar Aiken steps into the No. 1 role, followed by Chris Givens, Marlon Brown, Jeremy Ross and others. Pundits don't have high hopes for the receiving corps, but this group will be out to prove that they can still get the job done without their leader. Aiken has to be more consistent and will have every opportunity to do so as he will likely be the main target.

2)      The tight ends' emergence

The receiving game won't fall entirely on the wide receivers' shoulders. While Baltimore has been hit hard by injuries at that position to Smith, first-round pick Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller, the tight end room has an abundance of riches. The Ravens have been very impressed with what they've seen from bruising second-year starter Crockett Gillmore and rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle. Head Coach John Harbaugh said that group will be leaned on more heavily down the final stretch. Will the youngsters answer the call?

3)      Will the secondary step up?

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had a sub-average day when facing the Ravens secondary in Week 8. Yes, Rivers still threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns, but it was actually a step forward for Baltimore. The Ravens must figure out a way to stop giving up so many big plays, but they are starting to get more plays from the group. Cornerback Lardarius Webb has done well and extra rest will help Jimmy Smith. After a brutal debut in San Francisco, Shareece Wright has leveled out in the past two games. If the secondary can get on the same page, Baltimore's defense gets a lot better because stopping the run isn't the problem.

4)     Injury returns

Two big names are still sitting out for the Ravens with the possibility to return. Tight end Dennis Pitta's fate will be decided by Wednesday at 4 p.m. when his 21-day practice window closes. Pitta either has to be activated to the 53-man roster or placed on season-ending injured reserve, which he indicated could mean the end of his career. If he can't come back from a second hip surgery this year, he may not be able to ever come back. Perriman's return has been a mystery since he went down on the first day of training camp with a knee injury. A report indicated that Perriman's return is "weeks away" but that's quite vague. He still has to get up to game speed, but his return to the wideout corps would be huge.

5)      Run game getting on track

Especially if the Ravens have trouble in the passing game, the ground attack may need to carry more of the load. Baltimore has been around the middle of the pack in rushing so far this year. It had a couple strong games against division foes, but has otherwise struggled to find consistency. Opponents may stack the box more with Smith out, making the challenge all that more difficult for the offensive line. The Ravens have to figure it out, however, or they'll be facing a lot of third-and-longs that make third-down conversions (something that was an issue in the first half of the season) even more difficult.

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