Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that the team could soon have some tough decisions to make at running back.
Alex Collins and Buck Allen have been carrying the load in recent weeks while Bobby Rainey Jr. has been used mostly as the top kick returner.
But Terrance West, who was the starting back before missing the past three weeks with a calf injury, is closer to a return. Free-agent signing Danny Woodhead returned to practice this week and is on track to be back Nov. 19 against the Green Packers, the Ravens' first game after next week's bye.
It's implausible that the Ravens will be able to keep five running backs on the 53-man roster. It isn't clear whether they'll even be able to keep four.
Here are the questions the Ravens will have to consider when making these decisions:
1. Do they have enough confidence in any of the other kick returners on the roster to let Rainey go? This matters more now than it did in September because the colder weather results in fewer touchbacks.
2. Are there enough carries for West to justify a game-day spot when he hasn't traditionally played special teams? That's pertinent with Collins seemingly establishing himself as the lead back.
3. Woodhead was signed to be the third-down back, so where does his return leave Allen, who has taken over much of the pass-catching responsibilities in the backfield?
4. Given Woodhead's recent injury history, doesn't it make sense to keep four backs at least in the immediate future? The worst-case scenario would be the Ravens moving on from two of their backs and then Woodhead aggravating his hamstring injury almost immediately after he returned.
If you are surprised that the Ravens didn't make a trade before Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline, you either haven't been paying attention or you chose to ignore the team's history.
General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn't traditionally been active before the deadline. Part of that is that the team abhors trading meaningful draft picks, which is what sellers are looking for at this time of the year.
The fact that the Ravens have virtually no salary cap space right now and that they already reworked four veteran contracts to accommodate their roster moves this year made a significant trade even less likely.
He's tough but …
By now, even Joe Flacco's most ardent critics don't question his toughness.
Flacco returned from tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee in eight months. He's playing through a back injury that's affecting him whether he acknowledges it or not. But as he recovers from that nasty head shot from Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso that left the quarterback in concussion protocol, it's absolutely fair to question whether the latest hit will affect him going forward.
Will Flacco still be willing to take off and run on the rare occasion that he does scramble? Will he still be willing to hold the ball in the pocket a little bit longer or will he become more gun-shy and skittish?
In an interview earlier this month with The Baltimore Sun about Flacco's struggles, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick noted the cumulative effect injuries can have on a quarterback.
"The more advanced in your career you get, and there is going to be an inevitable downturn in terms of your talent and maybe even your ability to really dial in play after play after play because as you get older and you've gotten a little more beaten up, maybe you don't want to stay in the pocket as long, you don't want to keep your eyes downfield as long," Riddick said.
I'm sure I'll be accused of making excuses for Flacco, but to suggest that hits like that don't take a toll and can't affect certain quarterback's psyche is just ignoring reality.
Cornering the market
It's too early to say the Ravens offseason wish list won't need to include a cornerback, but things are certainly heading in that direction.
That's an important development for an organization that has been in search of quality cornerbacks for years now.
Jimmy Smith, who has reminded everyone how effective he is when he stays healthy, is 29 years old and has two more years left on his contract.
The deal that Brandon Carr signed with the Ravens in March was essentially a one-year contract with a series of option years. However, the Ravens have been looking for a solid and durable cornerback to pair with Smith for a while, so it would be curious to see them walk away from Carr after one season.
Rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey has been as advertised. The Ravens believe undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill has an NFL future, and they also should get back second-year defensive back Maurice Canady, who flashed throughout minicamps, within the next couple of weeks. And don't forget about Tavon Young, who had a very good rookie year before tearing up his knee in the offseason.
It's a good policy to draft at least one cornerback every year because good ones are precious commodities in the NFL. However, it's a nice luxury to go into an offseason and not have a major need at the position.
Ten quick thoughts
1. The Ravens' offensive struggles have overshadowed what a fine job senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman has done with the redesign of the running game. To be fifth in the league in rushing yards and eighth in rushing yards per game at this juncture of the season with the instability the Ravens have had up front and in the backfield is a huge credit to Roman.
3. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith has been held without a catch in back-to-back games and has just one reception for 6 yards over the past three games. I can think of a team that could probably use him.
4. The Ravens tried to move up in the first round of this year's draft when Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who went 11th to the New Orleans Saints, dropped out of the top 10. We now see why. Lattimore has been terrific.
5. It's early, but you wonder whether the Ravens passing on JuJu Smith-Schuster with their second-round pick this year and taking outside linebacker Tyus Bowser at No. 47 overall will eventually be talked about in the same manner as the Ravens selecting offensive tackle Ramon Harewood in the sixth round of the 2010 draft over wide receiver Antonio Brown, who went one pick later to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nah, that's probably a stretch.
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6. Tight end Nick Boyle had been pretty quiet over the first six weeks, but he was dominant as a blocker against the Dolphins.
7. I'd think that trying to sign middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to a contract extension would be at the top of the front office's offseason to-do list. Not only is he a really good player, but he's found his voice in the locker room.
8. The Ravens need to do a better job blocking for their punter and kicker. Sam Koch and Justin Tucker have each had a kick blocked, and there have been other close calls.
9. It's pretty remarkable that eight games into the season, only one Raven, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, has gotten in the end zone more than cornerback Jimmy Smith.
10. The Ravens had a league-low six interceptions in 16 games in 2015. They have 30 picks in 24 games since.