Ravens Could Run Away With the Division, Possibly Earn No. 1 Seed
The bye week has concluded for the Ravens and as they peer down the second half of the season, many expect great things with their remaining schedule being the focal point.
With the schedule in mind, The Athletic's Jay Morrison, who covers the Cincinnati Bengals, is ready to concede the divisional race to the Ravens.
"I know it's just a one-game lead for the Ravens, but the Bengals chunked the easy part of their schedule with a 5-4 start and face a gantlet after their bye," Morrison wrote. "The Ravens, on the other hand, will be skipping through daisies until Week 18. They'll win the division by at least three games."
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley has larger ambitions for the Ravens and offered a list of reasons why the Ravens could "possibly sneak up on the Buffalo Bills (6-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) and take the No. 1 seed in the AFC." Those included Lamar Jackson's record against teams under .500 and the run game.
"Jackson is 22-3 (.880) against teams with losing records as the Ravens' starting quarterback — the best active mark in the NFL since 2018 -- winning 10 of his past 11 vs. teams with records below .500," Hensley wrote. "When the Ravens were at their best in 2019 and 2020, they had an unstoppable ground attack. Baltimore is getting close to that level after gaining 188 yards in Monday night's 27-13 win in New Orleans despite not having its top two running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards)."
Hensley also cited the defense's improvement and regaining more talent from injury.
"But Baltimore has found its groove defensively with a now-healthy outside linebacker Justin Houston, a bounce-back year from cornerback Marlon Humphrey and the addition of middle linebacker Roquan Smith. The Ravens rank in the top five in both takeaways (16) and sacks (27)…The Ravens should get stronger in the backfield with Edwards (hamstring) returning for next Sunday's game against the Panthers and Dobbins (knee) expected to come back in a few weeks. Baltimore's pass rush will get another boost with David Ojabo, a rookie second-round pick who had his first full practices since tearing his Achilles in March. The secondary will get back safety Marcus Williams (wrist), the team's top free agent signing this offseason who will be back in December."
Though Morrison and Hensley are setting respective expectations, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec is "not even close to being ready to say it's over, not with the Ravens still having to play four division games and three of them on the road."
"There's no denying that the Ravens are in a good spot with the unblemished division record and an extremely soft schedule the rest of the way," Zrebiec wrote. "They seem to have found a nice winning blueprint in recent weeks. When they return from the bye, running back Gus Edwards and tight end Mark Andrews should be back and rookie edge rusher David Ojabo will probably debut. They are gathering momentum, but the Ravens have a lot to prove. Their offense still makes too many mistakes and the defense looks vulnerable at times. They haven't been consistent enough for me to conclude that they're going to boat race the rest of the division."
Rookies Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum Given Proper Praise
At the midway mark, media encompassing the Ravens passed judgment on the 10 Ravens draft picks who made the 53-man roster. Leading the way, according to The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer, is safety Kyle Hamilton.
"The No. 14 overall pick has graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 2 rookie safety and No. 6 overall safety this season," Shaffer wrote. "Because of the Ravens' depth there, however, 73 players at the position have played more defensive snaps."
Shaffer also gave positive remarks regarding Linderbaum.
"The No. 25 overall pick was the seventh offensive lineman taken in the first round, but perhaps no rookie's been better," Shaffer wrote. "Linderbaum has been a cornerstone of the Ravens' dynamic rushing attack, carving out running lanes with difficult "reach" blocks on zone concepts and eliminating second-level defenders as a puller on power schemes. The Iowa product ranks No. 3 among centers in ESPN's run-block win rate."
Linderbaum was the consensus pick for Ravens rookie of the year from Baltimore Beatdown and was given high praise from Dustin Cox.
"Linderbaum has been everything Baltimore could have realistically expected in Year 1. The rookie center has displayed the insane upside he brings in the run game and should continue to grow and improve as a pass blocker going forward," Cox wrote. "The Ravens appear to have finally stopped the near decade-long game of musical chairs at the position with Linderbaum."
While the first-round pairing has come on strong, the entire rookie class was credited by The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker as the reason the team has made strides settling into first place in the division.
"We talk about depth as a reason, maybe the reason, why the Ravens moved past their rough patches. Their rookie class is the heart of that story," Walker wrote.
Roquan Smith vs. Nick Chubb a Top One-on-One Matchup in Second Half of Season
ESPN’s Matt Bowen looked at the best one-on-one matchups left in the 2022 regular season and among his top five lands the battle between linebacker Roquan Smith and Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.
"Why the matchup stands out: The Ravens traded for Smith to boost their defensive run-game profile, and we saw his impact in his first game with Baltimore. Smith logged five tackles against the Saints in Week 9, showing up early for two key run stops, as the Ravens held New Orleans to 48 yards rushing. Smith's 37.6% run stop win rate is in the top 15 among linebackers this season, and he leads the NFL in tackles against designed runs (61)."
When considering the matchup, Bowen gave Smith the edge.
"We know what to look for in Kevin Stefanski's run game," Bowen wrote. "Multiple tight ends. Zone and gap schemes. Old school football. But I'm still going with Smith here. The impact linebacker's ability to run clean lines to the ball or use his pursuit speed to close the door on the perimeter elevates this entire Baltimore front."
Passing Stats "Will Never Tell [Jackson's] Whole Story"
Following the Ravens' win against the New Orleans Saints last week, Head Coach John Harbaugh stated the difficulty of judging Jackson on passing stats.
"Lamar plays on a different level," Harbaugh said. "You can't just look at passing stats; the passing stats are good, but he made some plays, he made some third-down conversions."
The Athletic's Larry Holder, when going through each quarterback's EPA rankings at the midseason mark, agreed with Harbaugh's statement.
"It's often unfair to judge the Ravens quarterback in terms of simply passer rating because that will never tell his whole story," Holder wrote. "Lamar Jackson went wild with a 142.6 passer rating in Week 2 and a 110.3 mark in Week 3. He's only had one single-game rating above 88.0 in the past six weeks and three games with rates below 75.0."
Holder ponders what could be in store for the NFL if Jackson begins taking over games on the ground once again.
"He's very dangerous running the ball, ranking eighth overall in yards rushing heading into Week 10 with 635 yards. But part of his dip comes from having no rushing touchdowns since Week 3," Holder wrote. "Imagine how dangerous the Ravens could become if Jackson really gets rolling again given they've won four of their last five games."
· According to PFF’s Kambui Bomani, Mark Andrews is the No. 1 red zone receiver this season. "Andrews' red-zone stat sheet includes the second-most receiving yards (66) and third-most receptions (9) from 14 such targets," Bomani wrote. "He's continued to be quarterback Lamar Jackson's go-to threat in scoring positions, with the Oklahoma product ranking second in red-zone touchdown receptions (5) through Week 9."