Is Starting Tyler Huntley Against Packers the Best Move for Big Picture?
Ravens fans undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when Head Coach John Harbaugh said yesterday that Lamar Jackson did not suffer a high ankle sprain and the team is planning for him to start Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium.
However, if Jackson is able to practice this week but is at less than 100 percent, would starting Tyler Huntley be the better option when considering the big picture?
The Ravens (8-5) are clinging to a one-game lead in the AFC North and will head to Cincinnati on Dec. 26 to play the Bengals (7-6) in a game that could decide who wins the division. The Ravens conclude the season with home games against the Los Angeles Rams and division rival Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1).
"Having Jackson as close to 100 percent, if that's possible at this point, for the games against the Bengals and Steelers should be the Ravens' priority," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Don't misunderstand: I'm not suggesting to punt on the Packers' game. As he showed in relief of Jackson in Sunday's loss, Tyler Huntley is more than capable of scoring points and giving the Ravens a chance to win against the Packers.
"But the Ravens have to think about the bigger picture here, too. Their best chance to make it to the postseason is to beat the Bengals and Steelers. That's when they'll truly need Jackson to be at his best and healthiest."
To Zrebiec's point, Huntley's performances this season when called upon — Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears, when he led the Ravens to victory while Jackson was out with an illness — allows the team to err on the side of caution with Jackson.
"He clearly has arm talent and high-end athleticism," Zrebiec wrote. "I love how he's not afraid to take shots downfield, but he also gets the ball out quickly and decisively when the situation warrants it. Still, I think the most impressive thing is his composure. He doesn't seem to get rattled and he's shown that now three times in tough road environments, including the playoff game in Buffalo last year."
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer had a similar take on Huntley and how the Ravens should deal with Jackson's injury.
"I had a coach comment to me how Tyler Huntley has grown into a pretty ideal backup for Lamar Jackson — a guy who's competent throwing the ball, and brings the sort of skill in the run game where the Ravens don't have to flip the apple cart over if/when Jackson goes down," Breer wrote. "And I know John Harbaugh said he expects to have Jackson against the Packers on Sunday. But Huntley's presence at least gives Baltimore a viable option if the smart play is to sit Jackson for a week as the Ravens try to hang on to their playoff standing amid a tidal wave of season-ending injuries."
Some Pundits Say It's Time for Ravens to Panic
Two weeks ago, the Ravens were the AFC's No. 1 seed. But after losing two games in a row for the first time this season and dropping to the No. 4 seed in a congested playoff race, is it time to panic?
NFL.com’s Adam Schein says yes. He put the Ravens at No. 1 in his panic meter rankings among playoff contenders.
"Just a brutally challenging stretch to close out the regular season," Schein wrote. "That Week 18 bout could be Ben Roethlisberger's last game in a Steelers uniform. Think he'd be slightly motivated to go out with a win over the archrival Ravens?
"Harbaugh said Monday that he 'plans' to start Jackson against the Packers on Sunday. Baltimore NEEDS Lamar to be active and dynamic in the coming weeks. If not, a season that started at 5-1 could end with a thud. It's panic time in Charm City."
CBS Sports’ Zachary Pereles also said the Ravens might be in trouble because of the injuries and a tough remaining schedule.
"The Ravens have been wracked with injuries — only the Giants have more players on IR — and their schedule is absolutely brutal," Pereles wrote. "Baltimore's next three games are against the Packers, at the Bengals (who won the first meeting 41-17) and against the Rams. If they have to play any of those games without Jackson, it will be even tougher."
ESPN’s Mina Kimes doesn't feel good about the Ravens' chances of making the playoffs after losing to the Browns.
"It really felt like they needed to pull this one out against Cleveland ... and their inability to do so not only casts doubt for me on their standings overall, but really their chances of making it to the postseason," she said.
Other Pundits Still Believe in Ravens
Not every pundit is ready to write off the Ravens. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said that as long as Jackson returns, Baltimore is his pick to win the AFC North.
"If Lamar Jackson's in, I'm rolling with Lamar Jackson to hold on and win the division crown," Smith said on "First Take." "Three of Baltimore's last four games are at home. And their one road game is against Cincinnati, and if Lamar Jackson is healthy, I like their chances. Cincinnati has disappointed the last two weeks, losing to the Chargers and losing in overtime to Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers."
Russell Street Report’s Adam Bonaccorsi said the Ravens' ability to overcome adversity all season is cause for optimism regarding their playoff hopes.
"Even in losses, much like [Sunday] in Cleveland, they show resiliency, fight, and so much heart that they find themselves in a position to nearly take the win home, while defying all odds," Bonaccorsi wrote. "A wild overtime in Vegas. Finger tips on a 2-point conversion in Pittsburgh. Short of the sticks in Cleveland.
A trio of nail-biters on the road that didn't favor the Ravens, but it makes you realize just how close this team is, despite all of the injury woes."
While falling just short of pulling off an incredible comeback win against the Browns was disappointing, it proved that the Ravens will never go quietly, regardless of the circumstances.
"It's all just further motivation, both individually and as a team, for a collective group that truly believes they can win any game with any combination of players on the field, injuries and excuses be damned!" Bonaccorsi wrote. "And the best part of that mentality? They're absolutely right."
Ravens Select Offensive Tackle in Todd McShay's Mock Draft
ESPN’s Todd McShay made his early predictions for the 2022 draft, and he has the Ravens selecting Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning at No. 22.
"The Ravens' identity is based on running the football and physicality up front, and Penning embodies that," McShay wrote. "He pushes defenders off the ball and moves well for a massive 6-foot-7, 321-pound tackle."
McShay said that if the Ravens don't address the offensive line in the first round, they could target a defensive lineman such as Georgia's Jordan Davis or Travon Walker.
Former NFL Referee Terry McAulay Says Ravens' Onside Kick Was Illegal
As was noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, the Ravens were hurt by questionable officiating in the loss to the Browns. However, former NFL referee Terry McAulay said the Ravens' successful onside kick was illegal.
It ultimately didn't matter, as the Browns defense stepped up and sealed the victory.
However, McAulay also said the Ravens were on the wrong side of a 30-yard defensive pass interference call on cornerback Chris Westry, which led to a Browns field goal. McAulay said it should have been offensive pass interference on Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry.