Mink: The under-the-radar player that could make a big difference down the stretch is tight end Nick Boyle. The Ravens have to run the ball better than they did with their running backs over the first seven weeks. Baltimore didn't trade for a running back or offensive lineman to try to upgrade, so Boyle's return from injured reserve is the biggest boost the operation will get.
When Boyle is healthy, he is a game-changer at the point of attack. The tandem of Boyle and fullback Patrick Ricard was devastating on opposing defenses. The Ravens need their blocking to open bigger holes for these running backs and Boyle is the man for the job.
Now, the question is how close to his former self Boyle will be coming off a major knee injury that required a second clean-up surgery and additional recovery time. The Ravens have eased him along in his second return to the practice field. Even if he isn't ready to reclaim his status as one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends, Boyle should still make a difference as the weather gets colder and the Ravens look to pound the rock.
Downing: Mink just addressed Boyle's return in the question above, and I agree that the veteran tight end has the potential to be a difference maker for the offense. In addition to getting Boyle back, the Ravens also hope that wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Latavius Murray return to get the offense closer to full-strength. Head Coach John Harbaugh indicated Monday that they have a chance to play Sunday vs. the Vikings, and their practice status will be important to watch throughout the week. As far as right tackle Patrick Mekari, he reportedly has a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for a few weeks.
The defense will also get some reinforcements soon as defensive lineman Derek Wolfe and cornerback Chris Westry are back on the practice field and have officially been designated for return from injured reserve. Wolfe's return should help solidify the run defense, as the veteran lineman has missed the first seven games with a back issue dating back to training camp. He returned to practice before the bye weekend, so may be ready to play Sunday. Wolfe was a force for the Ravens last season, and his return should help elevate the defensive front overall. Westry will give the Ravens some additional depth in the secondary, but it's hard to know exactly what to expect from a player who has only played three career games. Overall, the players coming back from injuries will help the Ravens in some key areas, and that's critical as they gear up for a tough second-half stretch.
Mink: There is no magical fix for the tackling problem, not even over the bye. The Ravens hope that their change at inside linebacker with Josh Bynes and Patrick Queen helps. They also hope that stressing the importance of fundamentals, angles, spacing, etc. makes a difference. You better believe that coaches will be stressing the importance of better tackling. Head Coach John Harbaugh made that pretty clear when he said the Ravens will be a "mediocre" defense unless the tackling improves. Only time will tell, but I do expect it to improve.
Downing: The former Ravens outside linebacker is having a great season in New England. He's living up to his big contract and is fourth in the NFL with eight sacks. I'm happy for him. Judon was a hard working and well-respected player during his five years in Baltimore. Let's not forget that he was a fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State, who then played his way to a big contract with the Patriots. Of course, it would be great to still have him in Baltimore, but that's the reality of a salary-cap sport. Plus, the Ravens will also get a compensatory pick in return for Judon this offseason, which they'll put to good use.