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Late for Work 12/29: If Ravens Get Healthier, Playoff Berth Is Within Reach

QB Lamar Jackson

If Ravens Get Healthier, Playoff Berth Is Within Reach

The Ravens are still in the playoff hunt, but it's understandable if Ravens fans see the proverbial glass as half empty right now.

Four consecutive losses — including three heartbreakers and a blowout —and a depleted roster will have that effect. Not to mention the NFC-West leading Los Angeles Rams (11-4) are coming to town Sunday.

If the season ended today, Baltimore would not be in the playoffs. But here are four reasons to see the glass as half full:

1. The season doesn't end today.

2. The Ravens are as resilient as any team in the NFL.

3. The only thing for sure in the NFL is that nothing's for sure, especially this season.

4. The Ravens should be getting some key players back.

The Ravens (8-7) are one of six teams who have a realistic chance of grabbing the seventh and final AFC playoff spot. The others are the Miami Dolphins (8-7), Los Angeles Chargers (8-7), Las Vegas Raiders (8-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) and Cleveland Browns (7-8).

Russell Street Report’s Rob Shields believes the Ravens will win their final two games and make the playoffs — if they get healthier.

"I know there is a scenario where the Ravens can go 9-8 and make the playoffs but I don't think it's that realistic," Shields wrote. "10-7 should do it, and a healthy (healthier, at least) Baltimore squad can do it."

Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, one of the Ravens' best defensive players, was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list yesterday, but cornerback Chris Westry was activated from the list. The day before, veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith returned.

In another move yesterday, quarterback Kenji Bahar was terminated from the practice squad, which could be an indication that Lamar Jackson (ankle) and/or Tyler Huntley (Reserve/COVID-19) could be nearing a return.

Under the new NFL protocols, there's a chance Bowser, outside linebacker Justin Houston and defensive lineman Justin Madubuike could return from the Reserve/COVID-19 list for Sunday's game. And another week of recovery should help injured defensive lineman Calais Campbell (thigh).

Cornerbacks Anthony Averett (ribs) and Tavon Young and fullback Patrick Ricard (knee) would also give the Ravens a boost if they are able to return, but it's too early to say how likely it is that any or all will be back on the field against the Rams.

"The Ravens need these guys out there. If they are, I like their chances of winning their last two games and I do not think the Raiders or Dolphins will win out," Shields wrote.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index, only the Chargers — who are coming off a 41-29 loss to the Houston Texans — have a better chance of securing the seventh seed than the Ravens.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko stopped short of predicting a playoff berth for the Ravens, but he won't be surprised if they get in.

"Putting aside all that has happened between September and now, they are squarely in the playoff hunt with two games remaining," Platko wrote. "If there's one thing we know for sure, John Harbaugh's team will go down swinging over this final stretch, regardless of who is on the field."

Rams' Passing Attack Presents Another Daunting Challenge for Secondary

On the other hand, even if the Ravens are as healthy as they can be at this point, the Rams are a difficult matchup. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp lead one of the league's top passing attacks.

"Before the season started, it looked like one of the NFL's best matchups. Now it might be one of the league's most lopsided," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "On one end is the Los Angeles Rams' offense, which not only leads the NFL in usage of '11' personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers), according to Sharp Football Stats, but also ranks second in yards per pass attempt with the grouping (8.4).

"On the other end is the Ravens' defense, which, a year after leading the NFL in yards per attempt allowed against 11 personnel, now ranks last (8.4), sunken by a secondary ravaged by injuries and big plays. It is a precarious place for the Ravens to find themselves this week. If they want to keep their postseason hopes alive Sunday in Baltimore, they'll have to survive a passing attack led by a strong-armed quarterback and all-star wide receiver who want nothing more than to replicate the assault that shredded the Ravens' defense in Cincinnati."

According to Sharp Football Stats, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow went 36-for-43 for 425 yards and four touchdown passes in three-wide-receiver formations against the Ravens Sunday.

"The Rams, like the Bengals, will test the Ravens' depth out wide," Shaffer wrote. "They've lined up in 11 personnel on a league-high 83% of their offensive snaps this season, though less often in recent weeks, and have used 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends and four wide receivers) on another 4%. According to Sports Info Solutions, quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed 67.6% of his passes in three- and four-wide-receiver formations for 4,166 yards (8.3 per attempt), 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions."

Mark Andrews Is Obvious Choice for Ravens' Non-QB MVP

ESPN asked its beat reporters to select the non-quarterback MVP of the team they cover. Jamison Hensley's choice of tight end Mark Andrews was an obvious one.

Andrews leads all tight ends in receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,187) and is tied for first in touchdown catches (nine). He needs 15 yards to break the Ravens' single-season record for receiving yards, which was set by Michael Jackson in 1996.

But Andrews' value to the team goes beyond the numbers.

"What makes him so valuable? Stepping up when Baltimore's best player went down," Hensley wrote. "Since Lamar Jackson injured his right ankle, Andrews leads the NFL with 376 yards, running over tacklers to gain extra yards. He has become the emotional leader for a team that has gone through so much adversity this season."

Would Arkansas Nose Tackle Be Good Fit for Ravens?

Defensive line is an area the Ravens are expected to address in the 2022 draft, and Arkansas nose tackle John Ridgeway is a mid-round prospect who would be a good fit, Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm wrote.

"Ridgeway is a high-floor prospect who perhaps has somewhat limited upside. But his final season with the Razorbacks, following four years of high-level play at Illinois State, showed he can handle the rigors of the SEC, earning a Senior Bowl bid," Edholm wrote.

Ridgeway has good size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) and proved his toughness by playing two weeks after having an appendectomy against Texas, recording six tackles and a sack.

Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried also thinks Ridgeway is a player the Ravens could have interest in.

"He lacks the athleticism or pass-rush upside to be taken in the early rounds of the draft, but the Ravens have shown in the past that they have no trouble developing late-round or even undrafted defensive linemen," Fried wrote. "After all, Michael Pierce was an undrafted free agent and Brandon Williams, himself, was only a third-round pick. Perhaps Ridgeway could be the team's next late-round conquest."

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