The Ravens are headed to the playoffs, but they want to win the AFC North crown and buff out some of their flaws before they get there.
Here are my thoughts as they head into a Week 17 "Sunday Night Football" showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium:
The Ravens' formula of a strong defense and strong running game can work if they start scoring more touchdowns. Before Lamar Jackson's injury, the Ravens offense ranked 11th in yards per game. But they've been cold in the red zone for most of the year and currently rank 30th there.
Baltimore's defense and strong running game will take possessions away from high-powered offenses of the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals if they face them in the playoffs. But if the Ravens' offense doesn't capitalize with seven points or the defense doesn't feast on turnovers, it might not add up.
There isn't an obvious theme to the Ravens' red-zone troubles. There's been missed open receivers, missed blocks at the wrong time, etc. Baltimore had just one run from a running back down there last week. Perhaps that's the next attempt. This week, Greg Roman said, "it's very simple fixes."
Don't say defense doesn't win championships anymore. Of the past 10 Super Bowl champions, only two ranked outside the top 10 in points allowed per game – the 2021 Rams and (believe it or not) 2012 Ravens. Could this year's Ravens defense, which currently ranks third, be good enough?
The most important factor in the Ravens offense getting hot for the playoffs is getting Lamar Jackson back totally healthy. When he's ready to play, he'll play. I don't think there are any other factors in play, despite the non-stop media speculation otherwise.
Baltimore piled up 215 rushing yards on the Steelers last time. Pittsburgh's run defense has been stout every game since and ranks sixth in the league. This is a test of whether Baltimore can truly run against anybody, even if they know what's coming, because the Steelers already saw it.
J.K. Dobbins is averaging a league-high 7.6 yards per carry over the past three weeks. Remember when he led all NFL running backs with 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie in 2020? Just imagine if Dobbins didn't have a lost year and was at 100% physically.
Here's yet another example of Roquan Smith showing he has purple in his veins. He got his first taste of Ravens-Steelers three weeks ago. When describing what he expects from Round 2, he called it a "test your manhood" game where you will definitely feel some "slobber-knockers."
Smith was the player who sent Kenny Pickett to the sideline in the first quarter the last time these two teams met. Smith said he's excited to see a full game from Pickett and added, "I know he likes to pull it down a little bit. So, we'll see."
The Ravens picked off Mitch Trubisky three times in the red zone in their win in Pittsburgh. Pickett has thrown just one interception over his past six games. Something's got to give.
There's been plenty of chatter about the lack of investment at wide receiver. There hasn't been as much talk about how the investments on the offensive line have paid off. Morgan Moses has been an A+ signing. The first-round pick that turned into Tyler Linderbaum is looking pretty good too.