Ravens Have Earned Trust in Topsy-Turvy NFL
Every time pundits and fans think they've separated the contenders from the pretenders in the NFL, shocking upsets occur that throw everything into disarray.
The Ravens' 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins last Thursday was just another example of the league's weekly topsy-turvy.
Can any team be trusted? NFL.com’s Adam Schein identified nine teams that he trusts right now, with an emphasis on "right now."
The Ravens (6-3) came in at No. 7 on Schein's trust (or "truzz" in the Ravens' case) list.
"It's still Lamar Jackson. And it's still John Harbaugh," Schein wrote. "That means an MVP candidate with Superman qualities and a buttoned-up coach who will be ready for everything."
Schein said Baltimore's multitude of injuries is a concern, as is the likelihood that the Ravens will be facing a blitz-heavy approach from opponents like the one Miami just used to great success.
That said, Schein has faith in the Ravens' ability to overcome adversity, and it starts with Sunday's game at Chicago.
"But I guess that's just it: I trust this organization to adjust," Schein wrote. "I trust Harbaugh, Lamar and Co. to do what they have to do to get it right. Baltimore's culture is real and spectacular. As is the Ravens' resilience. I would not want to be the Bears on Sunday."
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert divided all 32 teams into five tiers based on their playoff chances.
The Ravens were one of six teams in the second tier, which Seifert titled "Playoff Locks." Baltimore has a 78.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, based on ESPN’s Football Power Index.
"The Ravens' good fortunes were bound to run out at some point, and ultimately it happened Thursday night in Miami after a season's worth of second-half and/or overtime comebacks," Seifert wrote. "But the Ravens are fortunate to be in a division that does not appear to be as good as we once thought.
"Here's some advice when projecting playoff contenders: Always pick the team with a quarterback who is having an MVP-like season, and that's exactly what we're seeing from the Ravens' Lamar Jackson."
Four teams made the top tier ("Super Bowl Contenders"): the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans.
Does Ravens' Defensive Issues Dampen Optimism About Team Going Forward?
Not every pundit is as optimistic about the Ravens heading into the second half of the season.
In NFL.com columnist Jeffri Chadiha’s “Three Up, Three Down” list, the Ravens defense landed on the latter, and he believes the unit could be the team's undoing.
"It's rare to talk about Baltimore's defense being a problem, but that's been the major issue all year," Chadiha wrote. "Yes, the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries, including those that ended the seasons of linebacker L.J. Fort, safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Marcus Peters. This team also has been plagued by a slew of communication issues and busted coverages at the worst possible moments (as was the case when Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson got free for a 64-yard catch-and-run that set up the game-clinching touchdown in Baltimore's 22-10 loss to Miami last Thursday)
"Put it this way: Three different quarterbacks have enjoyed 400-yard passing days against this team so far. That doesn't bode well for the near future, even with Lamar Jackson playing at an MVP level."
As All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the loss to the Dolphins, "you are what you put on film in the game." However, he also said that the game "will be a great wake-up call for everybody."
The defense has played well at times this season, specifically against the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions. The most impressive performance was limiting the Chargers' explosive offense to six points and 208 total yards.
Ravens Midseason Superlatives Revealed
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer made his choices for Ravens midseason superlatives.
Here's a look at a few of them (MVP obviously was a no-brainer, so I won't waste your time with that one):
Most improved: Marquise "Hollywood" Brown
"Maybe the wide receiver hasn't improved so much as he's remained healthy, but the difference between Year 2 and Year 3 has been immense. With 719 receiving yards over nine games, Brown would be on pace for 1,278 yards over a 16-game season, the most in Ravens history. He needs just 50 receiving yards Sunday to match his career-high total, set last year. Despite the occasional drop, Brown has zoomed past offseason questions about whether he could ever be a top-dog wide receiver on a respectable passing attack."
Best rookie: Odafe Oweh
"The Ravens' second first-round pick gets the nod here over their first first-round pick, wide receiver Rashod Bateman, just based on longevity. The outside linebacker from Penn State leads all NFL rookies in quarterback pressures (29), according to Pro Football Focus, and has four sacks in nine games overall. Oweh's takeaway talents stand out on a defense that has mostly lacked them, and he's impressed with his ability to set the edge as a run defender."
Most pleasant surprise: Patrick Mekari
"The former undrafted free agent seemed destined to be the Ravens' next James Hurst, a jack-of-all-trades lineman whom the offense could reliably plug in anywhere up front. Athletically, he seemed best suited for the interior. But when Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was shut down after Week 1, leaving right tackle Alejandro Villanueva to return to his more natural left side, the Ravens needed a new bookend. In stepped Mekari, who'd last started at tackle in college. Until suffering an ankle injury in the Ravens' Week 7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Mekari was among the Ravens' most consistent players, steady in both pass and run blocking."
- The Ravens selected Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning in ESPN’s Jordan Reid’s mock draft. "The 6-foot-7 Penning, a smashmouth blocker who plays through the whistle, fits the reputation of what Baltimore wants to do on offense," Reid wrote.
- Jackson is No. 2 on ESPN’s NFL MVP rankings.