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Ravens news, notes and opinions on defense, Kelechi Osemele, more

Here's a statistic that I bet most of you wouldn't suspect: The Ravens defense, maligned all season, ranks 10th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (340.1).

Statistics can certainly be deceiving and this one is to an extent, although the Ravens defense has improved throughout the season. There's no denying that, especially after watching the Ravens contain the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

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But the unit has come up short far too often late in games, and failed to force turnovers, two areas that have factored prominently in the Ravens' undoing.

Of the 10 teams that are ahead of the Ravens in defensive ranking, seven have already clinched playoff berths and two more – the Houston Texans (ranked 4th) and the New York Jets (7th) – are on the verge of securing a postseason trip. The only team ranked in the top 10 in defense not in playoff contention is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10th).

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What does that all mean? That the Ravens have done some OK things on defense, but the unit is in major need of a couple of playmakers – guys who can get to the quarterback, make plays on the ball and create turnovers.

The future of Osemele and the O-line

Kelechi Osemele has played well enough since moving over to left tackle to suggest that he could be the Ravens' long-term answer at the position. But that's not the only recent development that could affect the Ravens' offseason plans along the offensive line.

The solid play of Ryan Jensen since becoming the starting left guard provides more insurance if the Ravens lose Osemele to free agency or re-sign him to play left tackle.

The Ravens already have John Urschel, who will likely go back to a reserve guard role when center Jeremy Zuttah comes back healthy. After signing starting right guard Marshal Yanda to a contract extension and getting Urschel and Jensen some significant playing time this year, the Ravens are in pretty good shape at guard regardless of what happens with Osemele.

I'm still not overly optimistic that the Ravens will be able to re-sign Osemele, but I do think their chances have improved a bit with him moving to left tackle. I say that because Osemele has made it clear that he'd like to play left tackle, and that's probably where he now best fits with the Ravens with all the uncertainty about Eugene Monroe.

If Osemele wasn't a priority to re-sign before, he certainly should be now.

As for Jensen, a sixth-round pick in 2013 out of Colorado State-Pueblo, he could become the latest late-round or undrafted player to flourish under offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

There's been a lot of talk of the Ravens potentially using their first-round pick on an offensive tackle. But you have to wonder if Castillo's history of developing much less-heralded offensive linemen could prompt the Ravens to hold off on drafting a tackle until the later rounds.

Actually, Upshaw played well

It's a shame that all the talk involving Courtney Upshaw following the Steelers' game was about him lining up offside and wiping away Jimmy Smith's 101-yard touchdown return of an interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger.

It was one of those mistakes that there is really no explanation for, but, otherwise, Upshaw played a very strong game with five tackles, a key fourth-quarter sack and two quarterback hits.

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In his four-year career with the Ravens, Upshaw has played some of his best football against the Steelers, and delivered some of his hardest hits on Roethlisberger. He's been the type of complementary player that has allowed the Ravens to have a lot of success against Pittsburgh in recent years.

If Upshaw leaves in free agency following the season, the Ravens will miss him, though I'd imagine that Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin will be overjoyed.

McPhee vs. Smith

All the Pernell McPhee comparisons that were made about outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith after the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round this year seemed a little much. That is until about three weeks ago.

Smith is finishing an otherwise quiet rookie season with a flourish. In his past three games, he has 12 tackles and three sacks. His five sacks on the season are second on the team and one behind Elvis Dumervil, and he also has 30 tackles.

McPhee had six sacks and 16 tackles in 16 games as a rookie in 2011. However, he was mostly used as a pass-rushing specialist, playing 306 snaps all season. Smith has already played 375 snaps with one game remaining.

Durable corners

In a season where eight Week 1 starters are on injured reserve and a number of other key players have missed time, cornerback Jimmy Smith is on pace to start all 16 games and Lardarius Webb will likely start 15 of 16.

Smith and Webb were two of the bigger injury question marks during training camp and they've battled through some things, but it's a credit to them that they've barely missed any time.

Draft update

As you probably know by now, the Ravens (5-10) are in position to pick eighth in the 2016 draft, but there's a good chance that changes Sunday.

It gets too confusing when you start looking into the strength-of-schedule tie-breaking factors, and all that. However, we do know this: The Ravens won't be picking either first or second, not with the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns each having only three wins with one game to play.

Even if they lose to Cincinnati Sunday, the Ravens probably won't pick in the top five, either. For that to happen, several of the following teams would have to win Sunday: San Diego Chargers (4-11, at Denver), Dallas Cowboys (4-11, vs. Washington), San Francisco 49ers (4-11, vs. St. Louis), Miami Dolphins (vs. New England), and Jacksonville Jaguars (at Houston).

If the Ravens beat the Bengals, they could find themselves drafting outside the top 10 because six teams have six wins.

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