Grinding Out Wins 'Will Do Just Fine for Now.'
The Ravens exited M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday riding a four-game winning streak after besting the Carolina Panthers, 13-3.
In the fourth quarter, the defense staved off comeback attempts by the Panthers and secured their one-game lead in the AFC North division race for another week. According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, that's what's important for the Ravens right now, but he questions they've demonstrated enough to expect it moving forward.
"If the Ravens just beat the teams they are supposed to, continuing next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7), they should clinch a playoff spot and put away the division long before their plane touches down in Cincinnati on the second weekend of January," Zrebiec wrote. "Of course, Sunday's performance offered a reminder of why it's silly to assume anything in the NFL and why it's foolish to think the Ravens are just going to steamroll through the rest of November and December. They simply haven't played good enough football in all three phases on the same day to have that sort of confidence."
Part of "beating the teams they are supposed to" has to do with the Ravens' remaining schedule, which has been widely deemed the easiest in the NFL. According to The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer, it allows them some breathing room.
"The Ravens' schedule will give them some more margin for error. Next up is a road game against the 3-7 Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be returning from a bye," Shaffer wrote. "After that, a return trip to Baltimore, where the Ravens will face the disappointing Denver Broncos (3-7). The only team remaining on the Ravens' schedule with a winning record is still the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)."
Still, after a sluggish offensive performance, has pundits concerned.
"Carolina took a familiar approach to slow the Ravens, cutting off outside running lanes, using their safeties to clog the middle and always remaining alert to potential Jackson scrambles," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "They dared Jackson to beat them outside the numbers, and though he was successful connecting with wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (nine catches on nine targets for 128 yards), the offense never flowed for long."
According to Zrebiec, right now it's about taking the season one game at a time … and winning them.
"The Ravens just need to bank wins and avoid major missteps," Zrebiec wrote. "They've put themselves in a position where that will suffice. They'll need to play far better to beat good teams in January, but the first step is getting to the playoffs, and grinding out wins will do just fine for now."
Media Concerns Regarding Injury Loom Over Victory
The greatest concerns following Sunday's victory were the injuries to left tackle Ronnie Stanley and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton. Following the game, Head Coach John Harbaugh did not have updates on the players and media outlets view the pending news as a determining factor in the Ravens' ambitions.
Shaffer: "The Ravens have to hope this isn't a Pyrrhic victory. Yes, it's another win, their fourth straight, but at what cost? Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and safety Kyle Hamilton (knee) have been two of the team's best players over the past month, and neither returned to action after third-quarter injuries."
The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Schwartz: "But the Ravens' hopes of a deep playoff run might've taken a massive hit if left tackle Ronnie Stanley's ankle injury is serious. He has been their anchor since returning earlier this season."
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "Stanley is one of the few Ravens players not named Lamar Jackson whom they cannot afford to lose for a significant period. … Jackson and the Baltimore offense is at its best when the offensive line is dominating up front. This could be a tough blow if Stanley's injury is serious."
Russell Street Report’s Rob Shields: "All that matters are the injuries. How is Stanley? How is Hamilton? The injuries, especially to Stanley, could determine where this team can go."
Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich: "The win came at a potentially high cost as the Ravens lost left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton (knee) to injuries. Stanley had led the resurgence of the offensive line and his absence would be devastating."
Though many are worried about Stanley's status, Jackson spoke to his tackle following the game and told him he'll be "good," but the fanbase will wait with bated breath on what that means.
Patrick Queen Is Emerging Next to Roquan Smith
The addition of Roquan Smith has gained plenty of well-deserved attention, but the man next to him shined once again.
Patrick Queen led the Ravens with 12 tackles and had a half sack against the Panthers, flying around the field the whole game to make plays.
"As we survey the reasons for the Ravens' defensive improvement, it's natural to focus on the star they added, Smith, or on grizzled sack fiend Justin Houston. But it's difficult to overstate how far Queen has come in leaving behind his image as an inconsistent, self-defeating first-round disappointment," Walker wrote.
"Queen was always capable of flashy plays as a blitzer, and he raised his season sack total to four on Sunday. But the linebacker we saw against Carolina was an out-and-out run obliterator, filling gaps and finishing with bone-rattling hits. According to Pro Football Focus, he made seven of his game-high 12 tackles against the run, and they came an average of one yard past the line of scrimmage."