Mink: I think there were a few factors that played a part in the Ravens' offensive sluggishness against the Panthers.
Coming off the bye, I think the Ravens just seemed to have lost a little bit of their momentum. Extra rest is great, but the extended time off can lead to being a little less precise, which is how Head Coach John Harbaugh described things after the game.
I also think the Ravens went into the game with a pretty conservative gameplan and took ever fewer chances considering the windy conditions. The Ravens were the most heavily-favored team to win in the league. The way you lose games like that is you turn the ball over. Baltimore had one interception on a short pass intercepted by a defensive tackle, but for the most part, the Ravens were content playing fairly conservatively and letting their defense dominate. I think Baltimore knew the defense would control the game against the Panthers.
In addition to the wind, the Ravens were also playing in their first cold-weather game of the season. Though Lamar Jackson said the wind wasn't too bad, he did mention the cold. Good news is the forecast is 75 degrees in Jacksonville this Sunday. Bad news is it's December weather after that.
Lastly, Carolina's defense is better than it looked on paper. They have a strong defensive front anchored by defensive tackle Derrick Brown and one of the league's most talented pass rushers in Brian Burns. Interim Head Coach Steve Wilks is a defensive coach and he had a good plan (that was well executed) for limiting Jackson's runs (he had 31 yards on 11 carries). It's no secret that taking away the Ravens' ground game is the best way to slow down their offense. Not many teams are able to do it. The Panthers did it for much of the game, but Baltimore still finished with 115 rushing yards, which is well below their season average but not too bad by league-wide standards.
To the question about Devin Duvernay, he's getting a ton of snaps, it's just that the ball hasn't come his way much. He has one target in each of the past two games. Harbaugh also said he could have gotten the ball on read-option handoffs more often but didn't. The Ravens know they want him touching the ball more, and it sounds like they're going to force feed him some.
Downing: I agree with this. Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen have both played lights out since the Ravens acquired Smith earlier this month, and the two of them complement each other incredibly well. Queen played perhaps his best career game against Carolina, notching 12 tackles, a tackle for loss and a half sack. The two linebackers both have sideline to sideline speed to chase down running backs in the flat or to shoot the gaps to get into the backfield. The most impressive element of their recent play is how quickly the two of them have clicked. Smith learned the entire playbook in a matter of days and the two linebackers both played every snap in Sunday's game. Smith and Queen sit next to each other in the locker room, and they have already connected both on and off the field.
It's not hyperbole to say that this duo is the best in the league. Both players were first-round picks, and Smith has established himself as one of the game's best linebackers during his career in Chicago. Queen has been on an upward trajectory this season even before the trade, and Smith's arrival has only accelerated that ascension. Queen told reporters after the Ravens acquired Smith that he believed the trade gave the Ravens two of the best linebackers in the game right next to each other, and that's how it looks with the two-game sample size.
Mink: I think we could see Marcus Williams back on the practice field very soon. He's been out for six weeks since suffering a dislocated wrist. Getting back on the practice field doesn't necessarily mean he'll play in the next game, but it's a big step in that direction.
J.K. Dobbins probably isn't too far behind either. He's been out for a month since having a more minor surgery to clean out scar tissue in his knee. The surgery went quite well, according to Harbaugh, and I'm sure Dobbins is itching to get back on the field. It wouldn't surprise me to see him back in the next week or two, and then it will probably be another week or so until he's game ready. I expect the Ravens will have Dobbins down the final stretch and for the playoffs, but we'll see.
Downing: Harbaugh told reporters this week that Kyle Hamilton (knee) and Ronnie Stanley (ankle) are both "trending in the right direction" after getting the initial diagnosis on their injuries. Seeing the two first-round picks exit Sunday's game with the help of trainers certainly made for nervous moments inside M&T Bank Stadium – especially with Stanley who missed much of the last two seasons with a broken ankle – but it looks like the Ravens may have dodged a bullet. Injury news can certainly change, and we saw that earlier this year with wide receiver Rashod Bateman ultimately needing Lisfranc surgery for an injury that was initially believed not to be serious. But right now the prognosis is positive, and the Ravens hope Stanley and Hamilton aren't sidelined for too long.