Mailbag: What's the Biggest Offseason Priority?

Ravens Offense

Mink: It's a toss-up between the secondary and offensive line for biggest offseason priority. I'm going to lean toward the offensive line because I think there's more question marks there.

The hope is that Ronnie Stanley will be back to his former All-Pro self after his second ankle surgery, but I don't think it's a given. The Ravens have a lot of money tied up in the franchise left tackle and they absolutely need him back playing at a high level. They'll take it slow. Then there's right tackle. It remains to be seen whether Baltimore hangs onto Alejandro Villanueva as a Stanley insurance policy and possible right tackle starter. Right tackle didn't seem to suit him well early this year. Ja'Wuan James is an intriguing possibility, but he will have not played in a game since 2019 if he doesn't suit up down the stretch this season. Besides that, the Ravens were already somewhat thin at offensive tackle to begin with, so they need depth and potentially a starter. Center Bradley Bozeman is a pending unrestricted free agent and Patrick Mekari will be a restricted free agent.

If there's one thing that we've seen this year, or the past two, it's that Lamar Jackson needs better protection. His production dipped in 2020 after Marshal Yanda left. Kevin Zeitler plugged that hole, but this year's tackle problems have stunted Jackson's progress as a passer and left him scrambling (and sacked) more than ever before.

The secondary ranks last in the NFL, so there's absolutely work to be done there too. But I have confidence that Marlon Humphrey will be fine in his return from a torn pectoral, and I'm willing to bet the same with Marcus Peters, who had been durable over his career before this year's knee injury. I think they can still be one of the best duos in the league next year. Anthony Averett is a pending free agent and a departure would hurt. Once again, we've seen how important depth is at that position, so the Ravens need to invest in (probably draft) multiple corners. At safety, DeShon Elliott is another pending unrestricted free agent that will be a tough decision for the front office. Love the player and his energy, but the Ravens need more plays to be made on the back end (only one team has fewer interceptions than the Ravens' six) and there have been far too many communication breakdowns and missed tackles this year that led to big plays.

Mink: Even though I answered the previous question, nobody should be throwing in the towel on this season. The Ravens "deserve" a playoff spot just as much as any of the other contenders, if not more. Do the Chargers, who just got smoked by the Texans? Do the Dolphins, who were one of the NFL's worst teams through the first half of the season? Do the Steelers, who just got waxed by the Chiefs? Do the Browns, who haven't won consecutive games since Week 4? The race for the seventh spot in the AFC playoffs is, for lack of a better word, ugly.

The Ravens are riding a four-game losing streak (with three games decided by a total of four points), but a major reason is the insanely bad luck with health/COVID that could improve, at least in part. They are a much better team than they've shown lately. It wasn't long ago that they were the top team in the AFC. There's zero benefit to turning the page early (you don't get bonus points for next year), so the Ravens will give it all they've got the last two games and hope it's enough to get into the playoffs, where you never know what can happen.

Downing: I think this is a bit of a "chicken or the egg" debate. The short passing game worked well with Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson at quarterback, and part of the reason is likely that the Ravens opted to simplify the approach with a quick-strike passing attack for the backup quarterbacks. Huntley and Johnson looked decisive throwing the football, and that approach could carry over to when Lamar Jackson returns to the lineup.

Before he went down with the ankle injury, Jackson was taking too many sacks and seemed to be holding the ball too long trying to make plays down the field. The Ravens offensive line has struggled this year and opposing defenders have made life difficult with blitz-heavy packages, both of which contributed to the pressure Jackson has faced. The quick passing game can neutralize the pass rush and help the offense get into a groove by moving the chains. A key with the quick-passing attack is that the quarterback needs to be decisive. If he's hesitant and holds the ball too long, the approach won't have success. Don't be surprised if the Ravens again lean on the short passing game when Jackson returns, especially early as he looks to get back into a rhythm.

Downing: First of all, the list of players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list is fortunately shrinking. Within the last three days, the Ravens have activated cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry, linebackers Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee, Chris Board and Kristin Welch, and safety Geno Stone. More players could come off the list as the week continues, especially as the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to new protocols that cut the quarantine time in half for players (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) who test positive. That's good news for the Ravens, as they had to play Sunday's game against the Bengals with 33 players on injured reserve or the COVID list. With the final two games of the regular essentially must-win contests, the Ravens need the team as close to full strength as they can get.

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