Steelers Game Has 2022 Draft, Schedule Implications
The Ravens aren't looking ahead to next season. Their focus is on defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Steelers helped the Ravens' cause by defeating the Cleveland Browns last night. For the Ravens to make the playoffs, they'll need to beat Pittsburgh and have all of the following happen:
1. Indianapolis Colts lose to Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Miami Dolphins lose to (or tie) New England Patriots
3. Los Angeles Chargers lose to Las Vegas Raiders
Even if the Ravens don't win or get the help they need and make the playoffs, Sunday's game against the Steelers does have significant implications for next season. A victory by the Ravens means a tougher schedule and lower draft picks in 2022.
Self-described data wrangler PrinceMoose calculated that the Ravens would be picking between 14 and 16 if they lose to Pittsburgh; with a win, the Ravens would have the 18th pick (unless they make the playoffs).
The Ravens could end up finishing as high as second place in the AFC North and as low as fourth.
In addition to playing teams in the AFC North twice and all the teams in the AFC East and NFC South next season, the Ravens will face teams in the AFC South, AFC West and NFC East that finished in the same position in their division that Baltimore did this season.
Here's a look at each scenario:
If Ravens finish second: home vs. winner of Chargers/Raiders; at Colts; at Eagles.
If Ravens finish third: home vs. loser of Chargers/Raiders; at Texans; at Washington.
If Ravens finish fourth: home vs. Broncos; at Jaguars; at Giants.
Pundit Expects Big Things From Ravens Next Season
The Ravens are a longshot to be playing in the postseason, but ESPN's Marcus Spears likes their chances of being a playoff team next season.
Of the teams who are currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs, the Ravens have the best chance to turn things around in 2022, Spears said.
"It's very simple. A lot of attrition this year. A lot of injuries to this football team," Spears said. "We know how well-coached they are. We know that they compete at the highest level.
"Shoot, even this year, this team's not supposed to be sitting at eight, nine wins on the year based on all the things that transpired. But when you look at how they're built, the foundation that they lay, and the expectation in which they play with, you expect them to do very well."
To Spears' point, the fact that the Ravens are just a few plays away from being one of the top seeds in the AFC despite all the injuries is cause for optimism. The Ravens at full strength have one of the best rosters in the league.
"I think they found something in [Rashod] Bateman, their young wide receiver, and Marquise Brown is starring in his role," Spears said. "They're going to be a really good team next year."
Spears added that when you have Lamar Jackson on your team, you always have a chance to win.
Lack of Big Plays in Passing Game Is a Big Problem
Heading into this season, there was much talk about the Ravens' emphasis on creating more big plays in the passing game. During the early part of the season, Jackson's depth of target was the best in the league, and Brown was regularly getting behind defenses.
That second half of the season has been a different story, and it's one of the main reasons the offense has been struggling.
"The Ravens are the only team in the league without an offensive play of 50 yards or more," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Even the New York Giants, who mustered negative-10 passing yards Sunday against the Chicago Bears, have four of them. Baltimore does rank a respectable 12th in the league with 18 passing plays of 30 yards or more, but quite a few of those came in the first half of the season when the offense and Jackson were in a good rhythm.
"In their first seven games of the season, the Ravens had 41 overall plays of 20 yards or more and 14 plays of 30 yards or more. Over their past nine games, the Ravens have 23 plays of 20 yards or more and eight of 30 yards or more. Brown, the team's supposed deep threat, has averaged under 10 yards per reception in six of the past seven games, which is inconceivable. Sammy Watkins has just once catch for more than 15 yards since Week 5, also inconceivable even with him missing a chunk of time."
There are some obvious reasons for the decline in big plays, Zrebiec wrote, including Jackson missing several games, a struggling offensive line, and defenses focusing on taking the deep pass away. Zrebiec said that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman also has played a role.
"Roman has been much-maligned in every one of his stops as an offensive coordinator for not being able to consistently produce a dangerous downfield passing game," Zrebiec wrote. "That's something [John] Harbaugh will have to consider deeply when he thinks about Roman's status for next year. But the team's struggles in this area don't all fall on Roman, either."
Where Was James Proche II vs. Rams?
A week after posting career highs of seven catches and 76 receiving yards, second-year wide receiver James Poche II was a healthy scratch against the Rams.
Harbaugh said yesterday that it was a numbers game, as the team only had room for five wide receivers. One of those receivers was Watkins, who played just 14 snaps and was not targeted.
Baltimore Positive's Luke Jones was not a fan of making Proche inactive.
"Understanding much of last week was garbage time, I still don't love sitting a young receiver who set career highs in catches and yards for a veteran who barely played," Jones wrote.
Russell Street Report's Darin McCann wrote: "I felt like James Proche could have come in handy on some of those short-yardage and red-zone opportunities [against the Rams]."