Mailbag: Are Ravens the NFL's Most Battle-Tested Team?

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Mink: I don't know the struggles all other teams have gone through around the league. I only pay attention to those of the Steelers' (zing!). Anyway, I do know this. No team had a bigger COVID-19 outbreak than the Ravens, which left them extremely short-handed against their biggest rival in a huge game. Other teams (namely the San Francisco 49ers) have had had more injuries, but it would be tough to find many teams with injuries to more integral players (Ronnie Stanley, Nick Boyle, Tavon Young, a zillion cornerbacks). The Ravens are also part of the toughest division in football this year.

So, yeah, I'd say Baltimore is pretty darn battle tested and that's showing itself right now. The Ravens are playing some of their best football during this three-game winning streak. Their resilience in beating the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football last week was palpable. All of that truly can be a difference-maker for a team down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The Ravens cruised into last year's postseason on a 14-game winning streak. They hardly played a close game over the final half of the season, rested the starters in Week 17 and had a first-round bye. Then Baltimore was one-and-done in the playoffs. I don't think it's far-fetched to believe that this year's adversity could make this year's team's stronger if it gets into the postseason.

Now the Ravens just need somebody (anybody!?!?) to give them an ounce of help so they can get into the playoffs.

Downing: I actually think this year's pass-rush is better than last season. Sure, outside linebacker Matthew Judon's numbers aren't as strong as last year, but he's still playing well and was just named to another Pro Bowl. Plus, the pass rush looks like it is rounding into form after a strong showing against Jacksonville. Ngakoue had his best game as a Raven with a pair of sacks and a strip-sack. The Ravens also hope to get veteran Pro Bowl Calais Campbell back in the lineup down the stretch after he's been hampered by a calf injury.

Baltimore's pass rush had some things working against it in the middle stretch of this season. The played quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quickly, they had some key injuries to middle of the defensive line (Campbell and Brandon Williams), and Ngakoue had to transition to a new scheme in the middle of the season. But now the Ravens are getting healthy up front, Ngakoue is coming on strong and the pass rush looks like it could be strength over the final two games of the regular season.

Mink: This is a tough question. Obviously, I think the Ravens would like to retain Yannick Ngakoue after giving up a reported 2021 third-round pick and conditional 2022 fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings. But it's complicated because both Ngakoue and Matthew Judon are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next year. Can they afford to sign them both? Franchise tag one and sign the other?

Judon just earned his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl and is a defensive leader and very strong all-around linebacker. Ngakoue has been more of a pure pass rusher over his career, but Head Coach John Harbaugh recently sung his praises as a run defender too.

The other issue is the Ravens have other young players they also want to give long-term contracts to, such as Mark Andrews and Orlando Brown Jr. And when does Baltimore go to the negotiating table with Lamar Jackson?

Eric DeCosta and his fellow capologists have done an excellent job of keeping young talent in Baltimore so far. But how long can that last? Who has to walk? The short answer is I don't have the salary cap figured out well enough to tell you, but it would see the Ravens will have to make some very hard decisions. If Ngakoue has more games like he did against his former Jaguars, he would bolster his case to fall on the right side of the ledger.

Downing: I'm sure if you asked Phillips, he'd be lobbying for carries after that unforgettable run. That 22-yard rumble really was a remarkable play and Phillips deserves credit for his instincts and athleticism. I've probably watched the play 20+ times by now and it just gets better every time. Now with all that said, I don't think the Ravens will turn to him in goal-line situations. That was a fluke play rather than something to build around, and the Ravens already have good goal-line backs with Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins. Let's just enjoy that Phillips run for what it was. And it was great.

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