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Ravens news, notes and opinions on pending offensive free agents and Alex Collins' workload

With the Ravens in the thick of the postseason race, it’s still a bit early to speculate on the pending changes this offseason for their struggling offense. However, the table is set for a pretty significant shake-up in terms of the offensive personnel.

The performance of the offense this season suggests one is necessary. The team’s list of 2018 unrestricted free agents suggests one is inevitable.

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While injured defensive end Brent Urban is essentially the only defensive player who isn’t under contract through at least next season, several current offensive starters or key contributors could be headed to the open market. Running back Terrance West, wide receivers Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro, tight end Benjamin Watson, and starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen and James Hurst are all pending 2018 unrestricted free agents.

Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, injured tight end Crockett Gillmore and reserve offensive lineman Luke Bowanko, who started at left guard in the victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, are also in the final years of their deal.

A few of those guys could be re-signed, and injured players such as running back Kenneth Dixon, wide receiver Tim White, and guards Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa should be back, but any way you look at it, the Ravens will have to make major changes with their offense this season. And those changes could extend to the coaching staff to some extent.

Collins’ workload

After a few weeks of questions about when Alex Collins was going to get a workload typically associated with a lead workhorse back, he got a season-high 20 carries Sunday.

That’s a good number for Collins. There has to be a temptation to get the ball into his hands as much as possible, as he’s been the Ravens’ most explosive offensive player.

However, you have to remember that at 5 feet 10 and 210 pounds, Collins isn’t a big back and that he runs in a very physical style. He takes a beating. You want him relatively fresh in the fourth quarter so he continues to run hard and churn out yards. He starts wearing down through the course of the game, and you worry even more about him maintaining his ball security.

The Ravens have enough depth at running back to be able to keep Collins in that 18-to-20 carry-per-game range and maximize his effectiveness, not just later in games, but also later in the season.

Ten quick thoughts

1. With some of the struggles the Ravens are having in short-yardage situations, you have to wonder whether the promotion of practice squad fullback Ricky Ortiz is imminent. The Ravens re-signed Ortiz just a week ago, so I’m sure he needs a little time to acclimate himself with the offense.

2. Wide receiver Chris Moore has really become a good special teams player, especially in punt coverage.

3. Coach John Harbaugh cautioned not to read too much into rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey playing 23 more snaps than Brandon Carr against Green Bay, but it’s hard to believe that the first-round draft pick won’t be cutting into the veteran’s playing time going forward, especially against big and physical receiving corps.

4. The previous item is not a slight on Carr at all. He’s been solid. Given the team’s depth and youth at cornerback, it seems there’s already an expectation that the Ravens will move on from Carr after this season. It makes sense, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get rid of a durable and reliable corner after spending several years trying to find one opposite Jimmy Smith.

5. A stat that bodes well for the Ravens’ future: They had seven first- or second-year guys play 19 defensive snaps or more in the shutout of the Packers.

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6. Ravens safety Lardarius Webb has been maligned at times this season, but you can’t say enough about his selflessness and commitment to the organization. Not only does Webb regularly work with young corners who have ultimately cut into his playing time, but he was running down the field and covering kicks Sunday. You don’t see that often from a guy who has been a starting defensive back for the previous six seasons.

7. The Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins might be the most physical receiver in the NFL. It’s going to be fun Monday night to see him dueling at the line of scrimmage with Smith and Humphrey, who love to play press coverage.

8. I’ve said this before but the Ravens’ offseason shopping list has to include a young and fast tight end.

9. It’s amazing every week to see how much the Ravens struggle to execute screen plays. It’s certainly not for a lack of effort to attempt them during games.

10. The Ravens’ latest weekly media advisory of community happenings included eight events players are appearing at on Monday and Tuesday alone. Many of the events featured multiple players. And there surely were more as players continued to get out into the community for turkey and coat drives and to host Thanksgiving meals for the less fortunate. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s really well done by the Ravens.

Wild-card watch

The Ravens are currently the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC with six games left. Below is what the wild-card contenders — or at least the teams with four wins or more — have remaining on their schedule.

No. 5 Titans (6-4): at Colts, vs. Texans, at Cardinals, at 49ers, vs. Rams, vs. Jaguars

No. 6 Ravens (5-5): vs. Texans, vs. Lions, at Steelers, at Browns, vs. Colts, vs. Bengals

No. 7 Bills (5-5): at Chiefs, vs. Patriots, vs. Colts, vs. Dolphins, at Patriots, at Dolphins

No. 8 Dolphins (4-6): at Patriots, vs. Broncos, vs. Patriots, at Bills, at Chiefs, vs. Bills

No. 9 Jets (4-6): vs. Panthers, vs. Chiefs, at Broncos, at Saints, vs. Chargers, at Patriots

No. 10 Bengals (4-6): vs. Browns, vs. Steelers, vs. Bears, at Vikings, vs. Lions, at Ravens

No. 11 Texans (4-6): at Ravens, at Titans, vs. 49ers, at Jaguars, vs. Steelers, at Colts

No. 12 Chargers (4-6): at Cowboys, vs. Browns, vs. Redskins, at Chiefs, at Jets, vs. Raiders

No. 13 Raiders (4-6): vs. Broncos, vs. Giants, at Chiefs, vs. Cowboys, at Eagles, at Chargers

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