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Late for Work 11/25: Ravens Should Be Thankful for These 'Agile Big Bodies'

Left: TE Nick Boyle; Center: TE Eric Tomlinson; Right: FB Patrick Ricard

Six Players Ravens Should Be Thankful for Having

There's a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving with the Ravens sitting atop the AFC North at 7-3 with a handful of nail-biting wins despite widespread injuries.

In honor of Thanksgiving, Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr named one reason why each team should give thanks.

Orr said the Ravens should be thankful for tight ends Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Eric Tomlinson and fullback Patrick Ricard, specifically for their contributions in last Sunday's narrow win over the Chicago Bears in quarterback Tyler Huntley's first NFL regular-season start.

"How do you win a game with an undrafted free-agent quarterback who takes only a handful of reps and finds out about his impending start on the bus ride to the stadium?" Orr wrote. "You have four of the most agile big bodies in the NFL, who are deft in open space and can align pretty much anywhere in the backfield, tight on the line or out wide and present themselves as an unmatchable, physical threat.

"Ricard is the best blocking back in the NFL. Andrews and Tomlinson are first and second, respectively, in Pro Football Focus' run blocking grades. Boyle returned to the field last week and was immediately jumping into three-wide sets."

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec also weighed in on what the Ravens should be thankful for, and he went with the more slam-dunk choices.

"That they have Lamar Jackson as their quarterback and Justin Tucker as their kicker. I could get cute here, but why bother?" Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens are 7-3 and sitting atop the most competitive division in the league because of what Jackson has done in masking the team's flaws and because of how clutch Tucker has been late in fourth quarters and overtime.

"[The Ravens] are flawed and have quite a few issues on both sides of the ball, but they've kept winning and they largely have Jackson and Tucker to thank for that."

Pundit Ranks Steelers Games As Two 'Easiest' on Ravens' Remaining Schedule

Last Sunday, the Tennessee Titans (the top seed in the AFC) lost to the Houston Texans (the 16th seed in the AFC) at home. Shocking? Not this season.

Upsets such as this are happening on a weekly basis in the NFL. "Any given Sunday" has never been more apropos. Or, as the Ravens painfully learned in Week 10 in Miami, "any given Thursday."

Therefore, it seems like an exercise in futility to rank a team's remaining games from easiest to hardest, but The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer took a stab at it in regard to the seven games the Ravens (7-3) have left.

Starting with this Sunday's home contest against the Cleveland Browns, every one of those games are against teams that currently have winning records.

Here's a look at Shaffer's choices for the Ravens' two easiest and two hardest games:

Easiest: Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 18 in Baltimore)

Why they're vulnerable: "This is not your father's Steelers defense. Pittsburgh (5-4-1) has allowed at least 19 points in seven of its past nine games. The two exceptions: a 16-16 tie with the winless Detroit Lions, played in cold and rainy conditions, and a 15-10 win over the Cleveland Browns and hobbled quarterback Baker Mayfield."

Why they're not: "When have the Steelers ever let Lamar Jackson have his way? Over four starts against Pittsburgh, he's completed just 57.9% of his passes, thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions and averaged just 4.2 yards per carry. [Outside linebacker T.J.] Watt should wreak havoc on the edge, especially if the Ravens can't establish their run game. The Steelers' defensive front won't make that easy."

Second-easiest: Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 13 in Pittsburgh)

Why they're vulnerable: "This is not your father's Steelers offense, either. According to Sharp Football Stats, Pittsburgh ranks 21st in explosive-run rate, 26th in explosive-pass rate and 28th in explosive-play rate. JuJu Smith-Schuster's season-ending shoulder injury has limited Pittsburgh's receiving corps, and so has its quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 6.9 air yards per pass attempt, the lowest mark of his career and one of the lowest in the NFL."

Why they're not: "Coach Mike Tomlin has never finished a season in Pittsburgh with a losing record. If the Steelers get there again, it'll be because they protected Heinz Field. The Ravens have fared well in Pittsburgh in recent years, however, winning two of their past three games and nearly pulling the upset last year despite a coronavirus-ravaged roster."

Second-hardest: Green Bay Packers (Week 15 in Baltimore)

Why they're vulnerable: "Much like the Ravens, Green Bay has an impressive record (8-3) but not an impressive resume. The Packers are the NFL's No. 13 team overall, according to Football Outsiders, two spots behind the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings and two spots ahead of the Ravens. Their top player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has already missed time this season because of a coronavirus infection and is now dealing with an injury that he's said is "a little worse than turf toe."

Why they're not: "For all the peculiarities and struggles of Rodgers' season — the team's COVID-19 outbreak, his leadership shortcomings, his struggles to throw deep — he still ranks fourth in the NFL in QBR, according to ESPN. A year after he was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player, Rodgers has completed 66.8% of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt and thrown 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Wide receiver Davante Adams, always a nightmare to cover, is averaging a career-high 13.6 yards per catch."

Hardest: Los Angeles Rams (Week 17 in Baltimore)

Why they're vulnerable: "The Rams (7-3) might have things figured out by early January, but for now, they're in a rough patch. Matthew Stafford, who leads the NFL in QBR, followed up the worst game of his season in Week 9 with an even worse performance in Week 10. In double-digit losses to the Titans and San Francisco 49ers, he averaged about 6 yards per pass attempt and finished with more interceptions than touchdowns."

Why they're not: "Maybe no opponent would give the Ravens more headaches than an in-sync Rams team. If above-average quarterbacks can have career days against this pass defense, what could Stafford, [wide receiver Cooper] Kupp and coach Sean McVay cook up?"

What Changes Could Be Made to the Roster in Coming Weeks?

The Ravens have had plenty of roster flexibility so far this season, but Zrebiec said they'll likely have to make some difficult decisions in the coming weeks in an effort to have their best available 48 players in uniform on game day to aid in the playoff push.

"Roster logjams tend to work themselves out and the Ravens' wave of injuries has been unrelenting," Zrebiec wrote. "But there are probably certain questions that team decision-makers are going to have to answer over the next month in an effort to provide depth at certain positions and improve the overall roster."

Zrebiec identified seven positions where there's either an excess, more depth is needed, or changes could be made. Here's a look at one position from each category:

Excess: wide receiver

"The Ravens are in the bottom third of the league in passing attempts, yet they are currently carrying seven wide receivers on their roster. It's not been a major issue to this point because several of their wide receivers play extensively on special teams, they've had injuries at the position and the Ravens just haven't been pressed for roster spots.

"However, it's hard to imagine the Ravens will have the luxury of carrying that many receivers the rest of the way. Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay are set as the top four. The Ravens rely on wide Miles Boykin and rookie Tylan Wallace as the gunners on special teams and then James Proche plays a little of offense and a little of special teams. He seems to be a better option, though, as a pass-catcher than Boykin and Wallace."

Depth needed: cornerback

"The Ravens entered the Bears game with only three active cornerbacks and one of those was Tavon Young, who is dealing with a foot injury and other physical challenges. Even with the ability of safeties Brandon Stephens and Ar'Darius Washington to cover, it doesn't seem wise to go thin at cornerback. You're one injury away from potential disaster.

"[John] Harbaugh said that the hope is that Anthony Averett, who missed the Bears' game with a hamstring injury, will return to play against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night. Getting the nine-game starter back would allow Chris Westry to settle into the fourth cornerback role and give the Ravens a more representative group. It's also not out of the question that Jimmy Smith will be able to return from hip and neck injuries, although he hasn't been healthy all year and it just didn't seem that the Ravens coaching staff trusts him at this stage of his career to hold up physically."

Changes could be made: offensive line

"Harbaugh and offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris could consider changes for a group that's struggled at times. Will they ultimately give [Ben] Cleveland or [Tyre] Phillips a shot at left guard? Would they consider a shakeup at tackle, where [Alejandro] Villanueva has struggled at times? Does Ja'Wuan James, who is still on the non-football injury list but hasn't been completely ruled out from a December return, enter the team's 2021 plans? All are legitimate questions that will be answered over the next month."

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