There's Chatter About Ravens Being Among AFC's Best
The Ravens bandwagon is growing, especially after the team's 20-19 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
The loudest supporters of the Ravens appear to be the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" crew, which was full of praise for Baltimore. Kyle Brandt kicked off a segment by saying Baltimore will be a top-5 team in the AFC this season. Peter Schrager then took it to another level.
"I think this team could compete for the AFC Championship this year," Schrager said.
Schrager would go on to say, "Originally, I came into this season thinking they could challenge the Steelers. I think they can also challenge the Patriots; that's how strongly I feel about this Ravens team. They look great."
With three preseason victories and a solid month of excellent practices, the Ravens couldn't ask for any more momentum than they currently have (minus yesterday's news about Jimmy Smith's suspension, which we'll get to below). The GMFB crew isn't the only one to notice, too.
Former Ravens Head Coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick chimed in with his thoughts, and was full of praise for the offense.
"I sincerely believe this offense may be the most potent we have seen in Baltimore," Billick wrote.
Indeed, much of the excitement around the Ravens seems to start with an expectation that the offense will be better than in previous years – much better.
The optimism starts with quarterback Joe Flacco, who is as healthy as he's been in recent years, and has also been sensational during two preseason appearances. In fact, Flacco leads all quarterbacks in the preseason with a passer rating of 141.4.
"The story of Joe Flacco is you test him and he turns into an all-time great. It's incredible," Brandt said.
As for the defense, Schrager believes, "it's the best in the AFC." Sidenote: Remember when NFL.com's Adam Schein didn't rank the Ravens' defense among the NFL's top 10 just a week ago?
The secondary and the interior of the defensive line is an expected strength. Who will occupy one of the starting inside linebacker spots has been one of the most intense position battles of the preseason, but whoever wins that job will be paired with one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL, C.J. Mosley.
One area that had some questions marks was the edge rush, but that unit has performed so well in preseason games that it looks like it could be a strength of the defense this season.
"Just about every single edge rusher has made an impact throughout the preseason," Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote. "Guys who needed to step up, a la Kamalei Correa, have had huge preseasons. Meanwhile, stalwarts like Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon have continued to look impressive. Tim Williams is a man possessed, and Tyus Bowser made an impact in his first preseason action."
Baltimore will also be aided by its schedule, according to CBSSports' John Breech, who ranked the difficulty of every team's potential path to the Super Bowl. Breech didn't just look at strength of schedule, but also considered other factors such as when teams play each other during the season. The Ravens landed at No. 21 on the list.
Breech isn't as complimentary about the Ravens' chances as others, seeing 2018 as a boom or bust scenario.
"The Ravens' season is starting to seem like it's going to go one of two ways: They're going to surprise everyone and make a run to the postseason, or it's all going to implode in their face," Breech wrote.
R.J. White, also of CBSSports, also predicted how teams will do based off Pythagorean wins, which "takes how many points a team scored and allowed and generated an expected record based on that total." In White's opinion, it's a better way of predicting how a team will do rather than the team's record from the previous season.
The Ravens scored well, and White believes the team will be able to improve on its 9-7 record 2017.
"Vegas is expecting them to fall short of nine wins this season, but according to this data, a season with double-digit wins wouldn't be shocking in the least," White wrote.
Potential Cornerback Free Agent Acquisitions
It was announced yesterday that Baltimore's star cornerback Jimmy Smith has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. It's a big loss for a Ravens defense that hasn't been as effective when Smith hasn't been on the field.
As for how the Ravens are expected to handle Smith's absence, many envision Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr stepping into starting roles. It's also been predicted that someone like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who has had a strong preseason and notched an interception against the Colts, will now round out the team's cornerback sextet on the 53-man roster.
RavensWire's Matthew Stevens took a different approach, and looked at cornerbacks Baltimore could sign in free agency to help fill Smith's void.
Bashaud Breeland: This is the name many feel the Ravens should go for if they do sign a free agent. Breeland is considered the best cornerback on the free-agent market, and he's coming off a solid season in which he finished with 50 tackles and an interception. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec reported that the Ravens have been aware of Smith's situation "for a little while," which may explain why the team brought in Breeland for a visit three weeks ago. Breeland left without signing a contract, and Zrebiec speculates it's because of "an asking price that was higher than the Ravens wanted to pay."
"He'd likely be a good primary backup to Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey if he's healthy," Stevens wrote.
Jimmy's Seafood has even started trying to lure Breeland to Baltimore.
Lardarius Webb: A reunion with Webb would make sense because of the familiarity factor. Webb played all eight of his NFL seasons in Baltimore, which means there wouldn't be a transition period that other free agents may require. Last season, Webb finished with 39 tackles and two interceptions while playing free safety.
"His rapport with the coaching staff and players make him an easy and quick fit into the lineup as a depth piece and insurance for further injury," Stevens wrote.
Robert McClain: While he doesn't have the name recognition for Baltimore fans like Breeland or Webb, McClain looks like he'd be a solid addition. The 30-year-old, who predominantly plays as a nickel cornerback, is coming off a season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he hauled in three interceptions.
"That's not terrible production for a guy still on the market," Stevens wrote. "Other teams are showing interest, and McClain is the type of signing you expect in a situation like this."
Check out all the free agent cornerbacks Stevens highlighted here.
Return Specialist Race Stalls During Colts Game
The battle to become Baltimore's return specialist did not have a clear victor after the preseason game against Indianapolis.
Both Tim White and Janarion Grant fumbled in the game, while White was also flagged for making an illegal fair catch signal. It was not a strong showing for either, and many view being the Ravens' return specialist as their prominent way of making the 53-man squad.
"There are too many crowded position groups to keep a returner you don't trust to secure the ball," WNST's Luke Jones wrote.
Of the two, PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz believes Grant's stock is currently higher because "he showed more elusiveness than White."
Grant averaged more yards on kick (25.5) and punt returns (13.0) than White, and was also on the field for 21 snaps as a wide receiver to White's four. That could also be a result of the timing of their fumbles – White's was early in the first quarter, while Grant's came during the fourth.
Despite having the early advantage, Grant wasn't able to firmly take control of the battle.
"Grant had a golden opportunity to gain a sizable advantage in the returner competition, but he failed to deliver," Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy wrote. "Despite Grant displaying his quickness and elusiveness, his fumble will be the biggest takeaway."
As for White, PressBox's Bo Smolka fears his "star has fizzled the past few weeks." White was considered the favorite for the job entering the Indianapolis game despite missing Baltimore's second preseason game against the Rams due to an injury.
The positive for both White and Grant is that there's still two more preseason contests to make an impression, with one game being just three days away. A strong showing by either could make them the favorite for the job and not force the Ravens to look elsewhere on the roster for their return man.
"Chris Moore returning kicks and a veteran such as Willie Snead handling punts remain options," Jones wrote.
Greg Senat's Stock on the Rise
A solid performance against the Indianapolis Colts could help put rookie offensive tackle Greg Senat on the right path to making the 53-man roster.
When starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley had to leave the game in the second quarter due to a right knee strain, the Ravens chose to give Senat, a sixth-round pick out of small-school Wagner, an extended audition.
"He held his own," Levy wrote. "The Ravens could have utilized several different combinations, including shifting James Hurst to left tackle and inserting Jermaine Eluemunor or Bradley Bozeman at right guard, but they opted to sub in Senat."
According to Smolka, Senat "ended up playing 51 offensive snaps, second-most on the team behind offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr."
It's an encouraging sign for Senat that the Ravens entrusted him with the opportunity, and that the coaching staff felt comfortable enough with his performance to leave him in. If Senat continues to take advantage of his chances, he could work his way into being the primary backup at left tackle, where James Hurst and Alex Lewis have both started in their NFL careers.
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