Opportunity Knocks for Ravens Reserves Sunday
First and foremost, the Ravens will be trying to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium. However, locking up the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs has afforded the Ravens the luxury of resting several starters.
The other benefit is that it provides reserves an opportunity to showcase their skills in a regular-season game against a team that needs a win to remain in contention for the AFC's final playoff spot.
The most prominent Ravens backup taking the field Sunday is quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will start in place of Lamar Jackson. Although the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year hasn't started a game since 2016, when he was with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens already have a pretty good idea of what RG3 brings to the table.
Having relieved Jackson in several games this season in which the Ravens were comfortably head, Griffin has completed 12 of 17 passes for 129 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also has rushed 12 times for 20 yards, but if you take away his six kneel-downs, he has six carries for 26 yards.
The most action Griffin has seen occurred during the Week 1 59-10 rout of the Miami Dolphins. He went 6-for-6 for 59 yards and a touchdown.
"His performance against the Dolphins — his first appearance in a preseason or regular-season game since Week 14 last year — hinted at his comfort in his first year with [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman's innovative system," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Griffin, who said repeatedly this week that Sunday's game is not about him, nevertheless has a chance to show the rest of the league what he's capable of.
"Jackson will remain the top QB in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, but Griffin could hold out hope that some team might view him as worthy of a chance to start," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "A strong performance against the Steelers could pique the interest of NFL front offices, especially those interested in running a style of offense similar to Baltimore's, which has used Jackson's running ability as a centerpiece to the league's highest-scoring attack."
Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote: "Not many teams can claim that they have a good backup quarterback plan in a worst-case scenario, but the Baltimore Ravens can. In Robert Griffin III, the Ravens have a guy they can entrust their team with. There's no better opportunity for him to validate this claim to everyone than this Sunday, where RGIII can beat the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Rookie Trace McSorley, the other quarterback on the Ravens' roster, could see his first action in a regular-season contest.
"The Ravens have yet to activate McSorley for a regular-season game after he pieced together an impressive preseason. Sunday, McSorley could get his first shot at proving he can hold up well while facing an NFL defense," Kasinitz wrote.
Kasinitz identified five other Ravens who might play against the Steelers. Here are some excerpts from what he wrote about each:
WR Jaleel Scott: "A 6-foot-5 speedster, Scott has the type of potential that makes NFL scouts salivate. He hasn't yet had an opening to display it in the regular season, though. … Perhaps coaches will carve out room in the offensive game plan for Scott, who led the Ravens with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason."
OG Ben Powers: "Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda will sit out Sunday against the Steelers, Harbaugh said. The Ravens could choose to start Powers in Yanda's place or let one of two more experienced reserves — Parker Ehinger or Hroniss Grasu — begin the game at right guard. Either way, the Ravens have reason to give Powers playing time Sunday so they can further evaluate his long-term potential."
CBs Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall: "The Ravens might need to replace several of their top cornerbacks this offseason. … A top-tier performance from Averett or Marshall might show the Ravens' decision-makers that they have viable in-house options to man the cornerback position for the next few years. Shaky showings might make Baltimore more nervous about its future in the secondary."
ILB Chris Board: "Board has remained a key cog on the Ravens' special teams units through his first two NFL seasons, but he's failed to secure a full-time role on defense. If veteran Josh Bynes rests Sunday, the Ravens could play Board at linebacker for the first time in more than two months. Like some of his teammates, Board can brighten the outlook of his career with a stellar game."
ESPN Analyst Imagines Lamar Jackson-Jalen Hurts Tandem
The Ravens have been hailed as innovators for building their offense around Jackson's unique skill set, but could they take that innovation to a bold new level next season by drafting Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and teaming him with Jackson?
That scenario was floated by ESPN analyst and former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum.
"Let's say the Baltimore Ravens draft him and now you put him in the backfield with Lamar Jackson," Tannenbaum said on ESPN's "Get Up" yesterday. "Is that what football looks like in five years when you have two people that can run it and throw it? They would be impossible to defend."
Led by likely MVP Jackson, the Ravens offense is already quite hard to defend, as it averages a league-high 33.5 points per game, by far the best mark in franchise history. While Tannenbaum's idea may seem far-fetched, it is fun to imagine Jackson and Hurts in the same backfield.
Hurts, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, has thrown for 3,634 yards and 32 touchdowns this season in addition to rushing 219 times for 1,255 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those are similar numbers to what Jackson posted at Louisville in 2016 when he won the Heisman.
Tannenbaum credited the Ravens for their outside-the-box thinking with Jackson and being ahead of the curve with the direction the NFL could be headed offensively.
"At the end of the day in pro football, we play with what college football puts out," Tannenbaum said. "This is where the sport is evolving. Hats off to John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens. They're going to be so hard to defend, not only with what they're doing now with Jackson and their tight ends. But could you imagine if they add a second element that could run it and throw it?"
Current, Former Ravens Among Decade's Top Safeties, Corners
Two Ravens and one former Raven made Pro Football Talk's lists of the top 10 cornerbacks and safeties of the decade.
Not surprisingly, Earl Thomas III, who was named to his seventh Pro Bowl team this season, took the No. 1 spot in the safety rankings.
"Thomas anchored the best secondary of the decade during his time in Seattle and has a Super Bowl ring to show for their efforts," Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper wrote. "Thomas was named a first-team All-Pro three times during his run in Seattle and made an impact across the board, but especially in the passing game. He ranks third among all players in interceptions since 2010 and his play with the Ravens this season shows that there will be more to come."
Thomas, along with Yanda and kicker Justin Tucker were named to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling's all-decade team.
Thomas' predecessor in Baltimore, Eric Weddle of the Los Angeles Rams, was No. 2 on Pro Football Talk's safeties list.
"Weddle has worn several uniforms over the course of the decade and has been a strong performer in all of them," Alper wrote. "He was a first- or second-team All-Pro in each of the first five seasons of the decade while with the Chargers and then spent three seasons leading the secondary in Baltimore."
Marcus Peters, a key player in the resurgence of the Ravens defense after being traded to Baltimore in October, was ranked ninth among cornerbacks.
"Peters has been capable of going boom or bust at any moment for most of his time with the Chiefs, Rams and Ravens," Alper wrote. "The bad can result in big plays for the other side, but the good has resulted in 27 interceptions. That's good for fourth in the decade, which is impressive given the fact that Peters only entered the league in 2015. He's returned six of those picks for touchdowns and has also scored on a fumble recovery."
- Six Ravens made CBSSport.com's Joel Curry's ultimate roster under the salary cap.