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Mailbag: What Should We Expect From the Tight Ends?

From left: TE Isaiah Likely, TE Charlie Kolar
From left: TE Isaiah Likely, TE Charlie Kolar

Mink: Mark Andrews' likely season-ending injury obviously shifts more onto the plates of Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar.

Likely played well last year when Andrews was out for three games. He had six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in Tampa Bay, a 24-yard touchdown in New Orleans, and eight grabs for 103 yards in Cincinnati. Likely is a different kind of receiver than Andrews but can be very effective in that role.

However, this year's offense is dramatically different than last year's. I don't expect that Likely will be as featured of a receiver as he was last year when Andrews went out. Instead, I think that Baltimore will lean more heavily on its wide receiver corps, with Zay Flowers flourishing, and Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman both heating up. Those receivers are ready for more on their plates.

With that said, Likely will probably get a few targets a game and he needs to make the most of those opportunities. I expect that tight ends' involvement in the passing game will diminish without Andrews leading the way.

One of the most important aspects of what Likely and Kolar will have to do is be effective blockers. Andrews is known for his receiving prowess, but he has developed into a strong blocker too. Likely and Kolar have made improvements in that area as well, with Likely showing a particularly good knack as a perimeter blocker and Kolar doing better in in-line blocking. That growth will have to continue.

Downing: Given all we've seen from Zay Flowers this season, it's surprising that he only has one touchdown. However, let's not forget the 74-yard touchdown he had Thursday night that was taken off the board by a very questionable holding call on Beckham. That play didn't end up in the stat sheet, but we all saw Flowers' explosiveness as he cruised into the end zone. 

In terms of the red zone, I do think Flowers will get his number called there more often as the Ravens look to replace Andrews. The red zone is where Andrews is particularly dangerous because of his connection with quarterback Lamar Jackson, and he has a team-high six touchdowns. That responsibility will now be spread among the receiving corps, and I think Flowers will be an important piece of that equation. His speed and agility make him incredibly difficult to cover, and that ability to get open in tight space is critical around the end zone. I won't be surprised if Flowers sees an uptick in his red-zone targets down the stretch, and I expect him to find the end zone a few more times before his rookie season concludes.

Mink: I'm happy for Flacco that he gets to continue his career, which is now entering season No. 16. Lasting that long is a feat on top of all the other successes he's had with a Super Bowl XLVII MVP and 10-5 postseason record with the Ravens.

As far as him being a Brown, it's weird. Seeing Flacco in a Denver Broncos uniform after the 2019 trade was odd at first, but that eventually wore off. That continued with subsequent stops with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets. Being in a rival's uniform, however, hits different.

It remains to be seen whether Flacco will get any playing time with the Browns. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski said rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson remains the starter and that Flacco’s role is to “support this team” with his loads of experience. Now, if Thompson-Robinson struggles and the Browns feel like pairing Flacco with that top-notch defense is their best avenue to the postseason, they'll make the switch.

If we're being honest, I don't love the possibility of facing Flacco in the postseason. We've all seen how he rises to the occasion in those situations, and there's probably still ice in those 38-year-old veins. While I think the Ravens would win in that scenario, seeing him come into M&T Bank Stadium would put a pit in my stomach.

Downing: Harbaugh has been asked twice over the last week about the hip-drop tackle that resulted in a potentially season-ending ankle injury for Andrews. After Thursday's win over Cincinnati, Harbaugh said, "It's a tough tackle. Was it even necessary in that situation?" Reporters followed up with Harbaugh again on Monday and asked about hip-drop tackles after he'd had more time to review the film from the game. Harbaugh indicated that he has strong feelings about that tackle style and whether it should remain in the game, saying, "I kind of have, in my mind, a plan for that, if I was king for a day, what I would do, but I'm not, so no one cares."

The issue is in the hands of the NFL competition committee, and Harbaugh opted to leave the decision to that group rather than engaging in too much public discourse around it. Harbaugh did stress that the Ravens don't teach that style as part of their tackling fundamentals, and that "I can't remember one of our guys doing it." The NFL and the competition committee have considered banning the tackle, but the NFL Players Association is not in favor of going that route. The NFLPA released a statement in March that said, "any prohibition on the 'hip-drop tackle' technique is unfair to players and unrealistic to implement. It places defensive players in an impossible position by creating indecision in the mind of any tackling player, puts officials in an unreasonable situation that will result in inconsistent calls on the field, and confuses our fans."

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