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Late For Work 11/1: Resting Ravens Regain First Place in the AFC North

WR Rashod Bateman

AFC North Lead Returns to Ravens After Bengals Falter vs. Jets

While the Ravens were out trick-or-treating on their Halloween bye, they retook the lead in the AFC North. The former division leader, the Cincinnati Bengals, stumbled on the road against the New York Jets after quarterback Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns.

After the events of Sunday, which also included the Pittsburgh Steelers defeating the Cleveland Browns, The Athletic's Lindsay Jones, Ted Nguyen and Dan Pompei pondered what to make of the AFC North going forward.

"I believe that once we get to December and January, the Ravens will be atop this division," Jones wrote. "They have the best quarterback, the deepest overall roster and the most potentially explosive plays. I still have to think through my post-Week 8 Power Rankings bracket, but I think my AFC North order will be: 1) Baltimore 2) Cincinnati 3) Cleveland 4) Pittsburgh, but I'm glad I have 24 more hours to think it through."

"The Ravens and Bengals are still the teams to beat in the division, but the Steelers defense will keep them in the race," Nguyen wrote. "The Browns just don't look like they can challenge with an injured Baker Mayfield at the helm. … I think the Ravens will finish on top, Bengals second, Steelers third and Browns last."

"The Ravens are off this week, but they are in first place and should be. However, there isn't one team that is clearly ahead of the others in the division," Pompei wrote. "It wouldn't be surprising to if first place changed hands repeatedly between now and the end of the season. The Ravens, Bengals and Browns clearly are capable of winning the North, and Steelers are too if they keep doing what they did Sunday."

Could There Be a Change in the Running Back Room?

Ravens not named Lamar Jackson have struggled to run the football consistently and it's led to the team making moves to improve the state of the running back room. While they've signed multiple veterans and rotated through starters and gameday activations, Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones doesn't think the Ravens are through with moves at the position.

"We'll continue debating what's plaguing a running game that's too reliant on Jackson's legs, but I'd be surprised if we don't see some sort of shakeup at running back," Jones wrote. "Whether that's a trade acquisition or simply promoting Nate McCrary, you can't keep giving so many touches to veterans lacking explosiveness."

Jones isn't the only media figure expecting change at the running back position, with The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec saying much of the same.

"Perhaps, the Ravens are waiting on Murray to return before they make any subtractions at running back," Zrebiec wrote. "Otherwise, I can't imagine them being comfortable going with the Devonta Freeman, Le'Veon Bell and Ty'Son Williams trio for much longer. … It's very hard to believe that the Ravens couldn't find an upgrade for the current group either via trade, on the free-agent market or on another team's practice squad. And if they can't, why not give their own practice squad running back, Nate McCrary, a trial run?"

On the topic of trading for a running back, Late For Work previously covered the possibility of Colts running back Marlon Mack as target for Baltimore. However, Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton suggests the Ravens trade for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II.

"The Baltimore Ravens should offer a late-round pick for Jones," Moton wrote. "…The Ravens don't seem to trust second-year running back Ty'Son Williams, who saw his role shrink after three consecutive starts between Weeks 1 and 3. Jones, who's just 24 years old, could lead Baltimore's ground attack and make a strong impression through the remainder of the term."

According to Jones 2021 salary is $2.25 million for the season and he's down to $1.44 million remaining this season, perhaps making Jones a financially plausible option for Baltimore. He also, according to Zrebiec, would, "check a lot of boxes for the Ravens."

"The Buccaneers insist they're not interested in trading Jones, but he'd check a lot of boxes for the Ravens if they were," Zrebiec wrote. "He can get downhill, factor in the passing game and his contract wouldn't be too prohibitive."

Zrebiec also thinks it shouldn't cost the Ravens much capital to execute a trade this season.

"If the return for former Raven Mark Ingram being dealt from the Houston Texans to the New Orleans Saints is a future seventh-round pick, the Ravens should have no problem acquiring a running back at a very modest price," Zrebiec wrote. "It's one position where not a whole lot of teams are looking for help and plenty of teams have an excess."

No Wide Receiver Trade Talk at the Deadline

The trade deadline typically involves Ravens fans clamoring over which top-end receiving talent could make their way to Baltimore. But this season, Zrebiec sees the need for another pass-catcher "right near the bottom."

"If I was ranking all of the positions in terms of where the Ravens need help, wide receiver would be right near the bottom," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens have already invested a lot in the position and Watkins is due back soon. It seems odd to say this at this time of year when it comes to the Ravens, but they don't need another receiver."

The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker agrees, with a headline "For once, pass-catchers are the solution, not the problem."

"Speaking of Ravens history, how strange is it that none of fans' major worries this season have centered on the team's wide receivers," Walker wrote. "Almost every player in this long-scrutinized position group has met or exceeded expectations… General manager Eric DeCosta invested significant draft and free-agent capital to surround Jackson with players who could help him grow as a passer. It's working, and with Watkins on his way back and Bateman just getting his feet under him, the future looks brighter still."

Ravens Relying on Jackson More Than Ever

Due to an ever-growing list of injuries this season, the Ravens have called upon Jackson to make magic happen in multiple games. He's answered the call with aggressive passing and highlight-reel runs, and The Baltimore Sun’s Walker questions, "if the Ravens would even be mediocre" without Jackson.

"It's not just that Jackson is responsible for a huge percentage of the team's offense," Walker wrote. "The Ravens have needed every yard, because their defense has surrendered so many chunk plays to opposing quarterbacks and receivers. Aside from wins over the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Chargers, every game has felt like an arms race. Without No. 8 at quarterback, it's fair to wonder if the Ravens would even be mediocre. No player in the league is more deeply entwined in his team's DNA."

With Week 8 in the books, Jackson is No. 13 in passing yards (1,943) ESPN, with seven quarterbacks ahead of him sporting an extra game. He's also ninth in rushing yards (479), and according to Walker, more than half of those have come on scrambles.

In sum, Jackson's doing it all and Shaffer thinks, "Jackson has to be on any shortlist of Most Valuable Player candidates."

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