Marquise Brown Will Make the Pro Bowl and Other Ravens Predictions
If there's one word to describe the Ravens' season thus far it's "unpredictable." From nearly losing to the winless Detroit Lions, to the improbable comeback win over the Colts, to blowing out the Los Angeles Chargers one week and getting blown out by the Cincinnati Bengals the next, it's been a roller coaster.
That's why The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said making predictions about the Ravens is a "fool's errand" — but he did it anyway. Here's a look of a few of Zrebiec's 10 predictions:
Marquise Brown will be the first homegrown Ravens WR to make the Pro Bowl.
"Brown's six touchdowns rank only behind Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase among AFC receivers. He's on pace to finish with just under 90 catches and 1,400 receiving yards. Even with Rashod Bateman's role expanding and [Sammy] Watkins returning soon, [Lamar] Jackson will still look for Brown on deep passes and in the red zone. Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 2001, but it was as a return specialist. It's been a long wait for the Ravens to get a homegrown receiver into the Pro Bowl and Brown is in a good position to end it."
Despite their struggles, the Ravens will finish with a top-15 defense.
"This is a tough task with the Ravens fielding the NFL's 25th-ranked defense and four games remaining against top-10 offenses. However, this is supposed to be fun, so why not go out on a limb? The Ravens defense has turned around its fortunes in-season before. Getting defensive tackle Derek Wolfe back should help and Don 'Wink' Martindale's group did plenty of soul searching during the bye week. The Ravens' much-maligned defense will be the primary reason the team wins a few games down the stretch, rather than the reason it loses them."
The Ravens will win 11 games and win the AFC North on the last week of the regular season.
"It's hard to identify a favorite in the AFC North at this point. The Ravens might be the safest choice because of their quarterback and pedigree. John Harbaugh's teams traditionally get better as the season goes on and the Ravens are getting healthier. They are in the midst of three very winnable games against the Vikings (3-4), Miami Dolphins (1-7) and Chicago Bears (3-5). If the Ravens get to 8-2, they'd be in a very good position ahead of a difficult close to the regular season. You just know, however, that their Week 17 game against Pittsburgh will carry a lot of meaning."
What Does Not Trading for a Running Back Mean for the Rushing Attack?
You may have heard that the Ravens did not make a deal for a running back before the trade deadline.
Whether they should have or could have traded for a player such as the Colts' Marlon Mack is up for debate (as we did in yesterday’s LFW). What isn't debatable is that the Ravens need better production from their running backs.
The Ravens are third in the league in rushing, thanks most to Lamar Jackson, who leads the team with 480 yards. However, the Ravens' four running backs (Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams, Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell) have combined for 535 yards while averaging 4.1 yards per carry, which is below the league average (4.3).
"Come hell or high water, the Ravens must figure out a way to get some sort of consistent production from their running backs the rest of the way or else they will be placing their quarterback in an unprecedented position of having to shoulder the load," Press Box’s Glenn Clark wrote. "Even Patrick Mahomes got a little more help from his backs when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019."
So what can the Ravens do to get the ground game (minus Jackson's contribution) going? As noted in Late for Work last week, NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew thinks Williams should be more involved.
Williams, who spent last season on the practice squad, had 142 yards rushing on 22 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and five receptions for 45 yards in the first two games of the regular season. Over the next five games, however, he was a healthy scratch in two and received just 11 total carries in the other three.
As for the Ravens' trio of veterans, Freeman has been the best. His 0.34 rushing yards over expected per carry this season leads the team.
Murray, who is dealing with an ankle injury, leads the team with four rushing touchdowns but is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Bell is averaging 2.05 rushing yards under expected per carry this season, the lowest in the NFL among players with at least 10 carries.
"Freeman has earned just three more carries than Le'Veon Bell despite playing in three more games," Clark wrote. "Perhaps that's a sign that Freeman has earned the opportunity to take on more of the workload. Perhaps it's too small a sample size and the soon-to-be 30-year-old Freeman couldn't keep up the pace with more carries."
However, NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, who had Mack to the Ravens as one of seven trades he believes should have happened, is skeptical about Freeman being the answer.
"The Ravens might be wishing they'd figured out a way to snag Mack when Lamar Jackson is handing the ball to Devonta Freeman in a high-stakes December or January game." Brandt wrote.
Clark said the imminent return of blocking tight end Nick Boyle should help the running game, but "it could be mitigated by how paper thin the offensive line depth appears to be without a trade to fortify that group.
"And yes, either of these areas could still be bolstered by the addition of a player released by another team, but those players would have to clear waivers for the Ravens to add them."
Our John Eisenberg said that in addition to Boyle's return, there are other reasons for optimism that the running backs will be more productive.
"Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is adept at drawing up productive running plays," Eisenberg wrote. "Of the Ravens' remaining opponents, only the Browns and Bengals rank in the top quarter of the league in rushing defense."
ESPN's Analytics Gives Ravens Best Chance to Win AFC North
The Ravens (5-2) are the favorites to win the AFC North, according to ESPN's Pro Football Index, which projects their chances at 47.4 percent.
The Bengals (5-3) have a 27.3 percent chance, followed by the Steelers (4-3, 14.1 percent) and Browns (4-4, 11.1 percent).
FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell said the Ravens' improved passing attack has been a key to their success this season.
"By net yards per attempt, Jackson is a top-10 passer this season independent of the (significant) value he adds with his legs," Barnwell wrote. "His numbers would look even better if it weren't for a series of drops by the Ravens' receivers on deep passes.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens kept passing around this rate in neutral situations. They are going to integrate first-round pick Rashod Bateman into the lineup and should get back Sammy Watkins in the weeks to come. Star blocking tight end Nick Boyle is also practicing for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury last November, so they should have more formational flexibility than they've had in years past."
However, Barnwell said the Ravens will have to play better on defense to make a deep playoff run.
"The biggest problem for the Ravens is also something unfamiliar: They can't tackle," Barnwell wrote. "Outside of the Texans, the Ravens might be the league's worst-tackling team so far. Pro Football Reference's advanced metrics suggest that they are whiffing on 8.3 tackles per game, the most of any team this season. Opposing runners are averaging 2.2 yards after first contact with a Baltimore defender, which ranks 31st. The Ravens are also allowing an average of 7.1 yards after catch, which is the worst mark in football and more than 1.5 yards per catch worse than any other of their defenses over the past decade.
"Given how good this defense has been for so long, the safe money is on them figuring things out on that side of the ball after the bye. Games against the Dolphins and Bears in the weeks to come will help."
Two Ravens Named to Midseason All-Pro Teams
Mark Andrews has gone from being one of the top tight ends the past few years to the top player at his position this season, while Justin Tucker has continued to show why he is perhaps the greatest kicker of all time.
Both players were named to midseason All-Pro teams by Pro Football Focus and The Athletic.
Andrews is on pace for 90 receptions and 1,253 yards, both of which would be career-highs and franchise records.
"It may seem like Andrews is seeing a huge uptick in workload, but it's more about him being efficient with the same usage, and his quarterback is doing the same," PFF's Sam Monson wrote. "Andrews has seen 49 targets this season compared to 105 last year, but those targets are generating a 129.3 passer rating in 2021 compared to a 99.3 mark last year. He has yet to drop a pass this year after eight drops last season and has brought in six of his eight catchable contested targets.
"Andrews is sitting on the best PFF receiving grade of his career and has been a true difference-maker at a position where some of the usual stars haven't been quite as productive."
The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia noted that Andrews leads all tight ends in receiving yards per game (73.7) and yards per route run (2.29).
Andrews' ability as a playmaker and clutch performer were on full display under the bright lights of "Monday Night Football" in the Ravens' epic 31-25 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. That night, Andrews caught 11 passes for 147 yards with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
Speaking of clutch performers, Tucker added to his Hall of Fame resume by kicking an NFL-record 66-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 3. A week later in Denver, Tucker made more history by becoming the fastest kicker to reach 300 career field goals.
Tucker's inclusion on the midseason All-Pro teams was a no-brainer.
"You didn't really think I was going to mix it up and try to be a hero here, did you?" Kapadia wrote. "Tucker continues to be a weapon for the Ravens."
Tucker, the most accurate field-goal kicker of all time, is 14-for-15 on field goals this season, including 3-for-3 from 50-plus yards. He's 15-for-15 on extra points.