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Mailbag: How Will Ravens Make Up for the Loss of Keaton Mitchell?

RB Justice Hill
RB Justice Hill

Mink: Keaton Mitchell is a player the Ravens can't replace. His speed had another gear that no other running back on the team can match and Baltimore will miss his home run potential. He was averaging a whopping 8.4 yards per carry and having one of the best rookie years for a running back ever. It's a tough loss.

With that said, I think the Ravens are still in good shape with the trio of backs they have on the roster. I have confidence in Gus Edwards' ability to step into a lead role, particularly in late December and January games when physicality is at a premium. He can punish opponents and can be trusted in a variety of ways.

Mostly, however, I expect Justice Hill to see an increased workload in Mitchell's absence. Hill is the player that most mimics what Mitchell does with his speed to stress the edges of defense and ability as a pass catcher. Hill was consistently leading the Ravens' running backs in snaps before Mitchell's midseason emergence.

Hill ran well in Jacksonville and has done so all year, averaging a healthy 4.4 yards per carry. He's also good in pass protection, which will give Baltimore a little more stability in that area. The issue for Hill has been fumbles, particularly at the mesh point with Lamar Jackson. If he cleans that up, which he is certainly capable of doing, I think he'll be a player the Ravens can lean on down the stretch.

While having an experienced back such as Melvin Gordon III available to call up to the 53-man roster was a luxury, I don't think he'll take the carries that would've otherwise gone to Mitchell. Most of the workload will likely be split between Edwards and Hill. I do not expect Baltimore to shop for another veteran running back.

Downing: The matchups against Nick Bosa and Chase Young will absolutely be a big challenge for the Ravens against the 49ers. How the Ravens' tackles hold up could turn out to be the difference in the game. Adding to the difficult task is the fact that Ronnie Stanley's status is uncertain after he left Sunday's game in concussion protocol. If he's sidelined this week, Patrick Mekari would get the nod at left tackle, while Morgan Moses and Daniel Faalele would likely continue to rotate on the right side.

Bosa and Young are two of the most talented pass rushers in the game – they were both No. 2-overall draft picks – and they may be the best tandem in the NFL. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken will need to build his scheme around limiting them. That could mean more of a quick release passing attack where the pass rushers don't have time to get to quarterback Lamar Jackson, which would limit the opportunities in the downfield passing game. The tight ends and fullback Patrick Ricard will also be used to help chip those pass rushers at the line of scrimmage. Jackson came up with some incredible escape acts against the Jaguars on Sunday, but he can't be expected to do that every week. It will take a combination of scheme and stellar tackle play to keep the pass rushers from wrecking the game, and that will be a major focal point throughout the week.

Mink: It was odd to see Zay Flowers only get two targets in Jacksonville. But let's not forget that Flowers saw 10 passes come his way just the week before against the Rams. The week after he saw a season-low one target (vs. Seattle), he had six targets and put up 73 receiving yards against the Browns. So I'm not going to read too much into one game.

One of the Ravens' offensive strengths right now is that opponents can't key in on one target. One week it's Flowers who burns opponents. The next, it might be Odell Beckham Jr., or Isaiah Likely, or a punishing ground game. Baltimore's versatility is a strength, not a weakness.

In terms of the run-pass balance, part of that is based on the opponent. The 49ers defense is one of the best in the league, but has been more susceptible to the pass, ranking No. 15 in that area (220.6 yards per game). The Ravens, however, have to make sure they run the ball well enough so the 49ers' pass rushers can't pin their ears back. I expect a balanced Baltimore attack.

Downing: I'm sure you're not the only person who feels this way. Having Flacco in a Browns jersey during a playoff game isn't how I envisioned him making his return to M&T Bank Stadium. His comeback has been one of the feel-good stories of the NFL this season, but the support for him certainly has limitations for Ravens fans.

Seeing Flacco and the Browns come into Baltimore for a playoff matchup is not out of the question. If the Ravens fall to the No. 2 seed, and the Browns fall to the No. 7 seed – that would likely require the Ravens to lose to Miami and the Browns to lose two of their last three games – then Cleveland would visit Baltimore in the wild-card round.

Another possibility is that the Ravens maintain the No. 1 seed but get the Browns in the divisional round if Cleveland wins a wild-card matchup against a team such as Miami, Kansas City or Jacksonville. That's not a far-fetched scenario by any stretch of the imagination. The Browns have one of the best defenses in the league and Flacco has proven he still can come up big in key situations. Flacco will always have a special place in Ravens history and he's a huge reason there's a second Lombardi Trophy in the lobby, but it's a good time to put those No. 5 Flacco jerseys in the closet for the next few weeks.

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