Late for Work 10/16: Even In Stacked AFC North, Ravens Still Sitting Pretty

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Even in Stacked AFC North, Ravens Still Sitting Pretty

The Ravens’ 21-0 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday has a lot of pundits talking about the team’s playoff chances.

While it’s still early, Sunday’s win was a big one. There’s a big difference between heading into a matchup with the New Orleans Saints and star quarterback Drew Brees with a 4-2 mark, than being 3-3.

“Let’s call this their most promising start since 2014, the last time they made the playoffs,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote.

Though there is a hopeful feeling surrounding the Ravens, there are three big obstacles standing in their way of making the postseason: the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Ringer’s Robert Mays wrote the AFC North “might be the best division in the NFL.”

Entering Week 6, the AFC North was the only division to not have a team with a losing record. The Browns lost to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, giving the division a team with a losing record. However, the AFC North is one of two divisions to currently have three teams with winning records (NFC North being the other).

Looking at the Bengals, Ravens, Steelers and Browns, it’s tough to argue with Mays.

Cincinnati entered Week 6 as the division leader with a 4-1 record, but dropped a tough game at home to the Steelers on a last-second touchdown from Antonio Brown. Mays referred to that contest as one that “provided a window into just how vicious the fight for the division title is going to be down the stretch.” Though the Bengals came out on the losing end, they’re still in first place in the division, and have already beaten the Ravens this season.

The Steelers meanwhile, have won two straight games since losing to the Ravens in Week 4. They were also expected to have Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell coming back during their bye this week after sitting out the first six weeks of the season, though there is a report out that he won’t report to Pittsburgh this week. And though the Browns are the lone team in the AFC North with a losing record, they’ve played very well this season and already have a win over the Ravens.

“The season is less than half complete, but this is already shaping up to be a bruising battle for playoff spot(s) out of the AFC North,” PressBox’s Bo Smolka wrote. “The loss at Cleveland stings, but going 2-1 during a three-game stretch of road games at Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Tennessee has to be viewed as a net win.”

Against Tennessee, though, Mays believes the Ravens “showed why they might be the team to beat in the AFC North.”

“In a league where so many teams are struggling to find an identity, the Ravens know exactly who they are, and that makes them dangerous,” Mays wrote.

To Mays, the Ravens’ identity is a dominant defense coupled with a vastly-improved offense. And though the offense did very well against the Titans, chewing up clock with long drives and third-down conversions, the victory was essentially a showcase of how special the defense can be.

It caught the eyes of “Good Morning Football’s” Peter Schrager, who believes the defense is the reason why the Ravens are currently the team to beat in the AFC North.

“The Ravens are the most asymmetrical team in the NFL right now,” Schrager said. “When everyone is going big offense, they’re going big defense.”

Still, like I said before, there’s a long way to go this season, and the Ravens have already had a couple disappointing performances this season. Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy is hoping to see more consistency from the Ravens, asking “Who are the real Ravens?”

“Whether or not they snap their three-year playoff drought will be determined solely on how consistent they play,” Levy wrote. “If they can avoid the brutal offensive stretches they had against Cleveland and Cincinnati, then the Ravens may be able to make some noise in the postseason.”

Despite those disappointing losses, having a 4-2 mark after playing all of your road division games is pretty good. Having the defense fully available after not having cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce at various points is nice too. And being about to enter a stretch of four home games in six weeks with a bye in there, too, isn’t a bad spot to be in, either.

In other words, despite how talented the AFC North is, the Ravens are in a good spot.

Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd named the Ravens among the nine teams he thinks are capable of winning the Super Bowl this year.

Should the Ravens Trade for Amari Cooper?

The Oakland Raiders are reportedly looking to trade wide receiver Amari Cooper before the NFL’s trade deadline on October 30.

You can bet as soon as that news broke, fans from every team quickly checked to see if their team was among those rumored to be interested in acquiring Cooper. It isn’t often that a 24-year-old two-time Pro Bowler becomes available, after all.

However, RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens doesn’t think the Ravens should pursue a trade for him this season.

“While Cooper would certainly be an intriguing addition to Baltimore’s offense and finally give them that top option they’ve been craving for years, there are a bunch of reasons it’s not very likely to happen,” Stevens wrote.

Trade Cost

The Raiders are reportedly seeking a first-round pick in next year’s draft, which Stevens doesn’t see the Ravens being willing to give up. Baltimore already doesn’t have a second-round pick in next year’s draft because the team traded it to the Philadelphia Eagles to jump back into the first round of this year’s draft to get quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Stevens thinks the Ravens could potentially put together a package with a third-round pick, as well as some other assets like players. However, he doesn’t see it as a likely scenario.

“Even if just a third-round selection is necessary, that would take the Ravens out of Day 2 of the 2019 NFL draft,” Stevens wrote. “Given how much they love their draft picks, it’s just not very likely for Baltimore to cough up that kind of equity.”

Cap Space

The Ravens are estimated to have just over $5 million in salary cap currently. Cooper is a $7.21 million hit this season, though that number would be less since the hypothetical trade would happen in the middle of the season.

Furthermore, Stevens believes Cooper will be a $13.92 million hit against the cap in 2019, which would immediately be one of the biggest on the Ravens’ roster.

“The reality is, Baltimore would probably be far more interested in the offseason when they can tweak their salary cap next year and perhaps even work out a contract extension for Cooper,” Stevens wrote.

No Immediate Need

Stevens thinks the biggest reason the Ravens won’t look into a trade for Cooper is that their wide receivers have been productive this season. The trio of wide receivers added in the offseason – Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – have combined for 81 catches and 1,080 yards.

The well-roundedness of the Ravens’ passing attack also plays a factor. Baltimore has seven players with double-digit catches already this season, showing that quarterback Joe Flacco has plenty of guys to throw to.

“Given the immediate cost to their draft picks as well as the hit on the salary cap, it’s a tough sell,” Stevens wrote.

So not now, but possibly later?

If the Raiders don’t find a trading partner for Cooper before the trade deadline, Stevens thinks the Ravens would have a better shot at getting him in the offseason.

First, the Ravens cap space for 2019 could potentially be in a much better spot after roster cuts. The Ravens have a lot of veterans on their roster, and the front office may want to make it younger.

The price for Cooper could go down in the offseason because teams will have more avenues to improve their wide receiver corps. Stevens believes the trade between the Miami Dolphins and the Browns for wide receiver Jarvis Landry could be the benchmark, though trading for Cooper would probably be more expensive. Cleveland gave up a fourth-round selection in 2018 and a seventh-round pick in 2019 for Landry.

It’s an interesting prospect to consider, but for now, Stevens thinks the Ravens will not pursue Cooper.

“The only way the Ravens would truly be interested right now would be if they think they’re a Super Bowl team just one player away from getting there,” Stevens wrote. “It would require them to gamble too much otherwise.”

Explaining Tyus Bowser’s Absence on Sunday

One of the more surprising decisions this past Sunday was that outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was a healthy scratch from the 46-man roster. It was the first time that Bowser, a second-round selection in 2017, has been left off a gameday roster in his career.

When asked about it yesterday, Head Coach John Harbaugh said “it just didn’t work out numbers-wise.”

“We have so many outside linebackers, it’s kind of hard to decide who you’re going to sit down….” Harbaugh said. “When you get everybody healthy, it gets pretty competitive, as far as who’s out there on Sunday.”

Harbaugh cited the return of outside linebacker Tim Williams from a hamstring injury as a reason for Bowser’s absence, as well as the role of different players on special teams. Bowser has five tackles this season.

Though Harbaugh said “he [Bowser] practiced really well last week on special teams. He practiced well on defense, and Tyus is a really good player,” Levy thinks it could be difficult for him to get back into the gameday roster.

“Bowser has struggled to make much of an impact defensively, and Williams and [outside linebacker Za’Darius] Smith have taken full advantage. Not only is Smith off to his best season to date, but Williams is on his way to developing into a three-down linebacker,” Levy wrote. “Bowser has struggled to adjust to the speed of the game, and barring any major injuries, he may continue to be a healthy scratch.”

Patrick Onwuasor Has ‘Best Career Game’

Many pundits believe inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor had a standout game against the Tennessee Titans. After contributing four tackles and two sacks, it sure looks like it on the stat sheet.

Eight different Ravens got in on the sack party in Nashville, but only Smith and Onwuasor had multiple quarterback takedowns.

“Onwuasor had his best career game with two sacks and two other run stops,” Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick wrote.

As The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker noted, Onwuasor’s 16 snaps against Tennessee was one more than rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young’s total. It’s a big change from the last couple of games, especially in Week 4 against the Steelers when Onwuasor was on the field for just six plays.

The emergence of Young has made it tougher for Onwuasor to get on the field. In 2017, he was a starter for most of the season. As Russell Street Report’s Cole Jackson put it, “I do not mind Peanut seeing time as a pass rusher or a Swiss army knife type player, but … [Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale] get Young in the game anytime you can.”

Though Young did have a sack against Tennessee as well, don’t be surprised to see Onwuasor on the field more after, according to Walker, “he made the most of his 16 snaps with one of his most productive games as a pro.”

Quick Hits

  • Sports Illustrated’s Alber Breer gave Martindale plenty of credit for the defense’s performance in Tennessee. “How’s he done it? As I’ve heard it, the players have been wowed at how detailed Martindale has been in preparing them for just about every situation that comes up and arming them with counters for whatever the offense might throw at them,” Breer wrote.
  • The Ravens were one of four teams to get an A+ grade from CBS Sports’ John Breech this week. “This game might end up going down as the best defensive performance by any NFL team this season,” Breech wrote.
  • Za’Darius Smith spoke with PressBox’s Glenn Clark about the experience of playing football at the junior college level for East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi. “At junior college, we didn't have a pair of cleats a game or we didn't have different gloves per game,” Smith said. “We had one pair of shoes, one pair of cleats for the whole season. That little stuff right there made me humble. To make it out of there, it was basically football and books at East Mississippi.”

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