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Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about the trade deadline, returning players and the AFC North race

After a blowout loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens headed into their bye week with their spot atop the AFC North lost and their early-season momentum squandered. Still, there’s a lot to like about a 5-2 record, the NFL’s best special teams group and a steadily improving Lamar Jackson at quarterback.

With November fast approaching, Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker and Jonas Shaffer and editor C.J. Doon addressed the team’s injury woes, trade possibilities, chances in the AFC North and more.

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Which sidelined Raven, if healthy, would’ve helped the team the most this season: left tackle Ronnie Stanley, running back J.K. Dobbins or cornerback Marcus Peters?

Walker: Without Dobbins and Peters, the Ravens are less explosive on both sides of the ball, but a healthy Stanley would make the biggest difference right now and for the rest of the season. The 2019 version of Stanley would lift the Ravens in two ways, giving Lamar Jackson more time to look downfield and mitigating the team’s overall lack of depth at tackle. In an ideal world, Patrick Mekari would be a first-class utility lineman and Tyre Phillips would be a developing talent at guard. In the real world, the Ravens had to depend on Mekari as their starting right tackle, and they’re now sweating his absence, with Phillips as the next man up. Stanley was the first domino to fall in this chain of events.

Shaffer: Dobbins would’ve juiced the Ravens’ running game and helped quarterback Lamar Jackson out as a check-down option, but this offensive line isn’t owning the line of scrimmage like it did last year. Peters was maybe the Ravens’ most impressive defensive player in training camp, but he wouldn’t have helped their tackling woes. Stanley’s athleticism would’ve helped open up so much of the Ravens’ rushing attack, and his value as a pass blocker will become all the more glaring when Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt come to town.

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Doon: Peters. The Ravens defense has allowed a franchise-worst 2,073 passing yards over its first seven games, and it’s hard to believe it would ever get that bad with Peters opposite fellow All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey. There’s also a certain in-your-face attitude lacking on defense without Peters’ constant trash talk. Remember the Ravens stomping all over the Titans’ logo at the end of last season’s cathartic wild-card round win? It happened after a Peters interception.

The Ravens could use more production from their non-Mark Andrews tight ends, so a healthy Nick Boyle would help.
The Ravens could use more production from their non-Mark Andrews tight ends, so a healthy Nick Boyle would help. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Which of the Ravens set to return from injury in the coming weeks will be most consequential?

Walker: The Ravens could use more production from their non-Mark Andrews tight ends, so a healthy Nick Boyle would help. But it’s not clear this team has the runners to take advantage of Boyle’s sledgehammer blocks, so his impact might be muted.

This answer isn’t exciting, but the guy the Ravens most need back is the one they just lost: Mekari. He filled in ably at right tackle and for a brief window, made us think the Ravens had found a workable alignment on their offensive line. Without him, they’re going to rely on Phillips, who has not thrived at right tackle, or look for outside help from a shallow pool of available candidates. One more injury could throw them into a genuine roster crisis.

Shaffer: If the Ravens can get the Nick Boyle of old, then he’s an easy answer. Pairing a punishing, versatile tight end with fullback Patrick Ricard, who’s filled in admirably as an in-line blocker, should give the Ravens’ ground game a shot in the arm. But it’s unclear how close Boyle is to his pre-injury form, considering how hobbled he looked in September.

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Sammy Watkins might be the safer answer here. He doesn’t have the versatility of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown or Rashod Bateman, but he’s a big-bodied wide receiver on a corps that currently doesn’t feature any. He’s already made a handful of important catches in Baltimore, and he’ll be expected to continue when he returns from a thigh injury.

Doon: If Derek Wolfe is healthy enough to return from a lingering back/hip injury suffered in training camp, he gives the Ravens an important interior presence on the defensive line. Calais Campbell has been playing at a Pro Bowl level, but the Ravens could use all the help they can get to fix a defense that ranks 20th in efficiency, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. At the very least, he’d provide valuable depth for a unit that might be relying too much on the 35-year-old Campbell.

With Patrick Mekari likely sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Ravens need stability at right tackle, now more than ever. Jets offensive tackle Morgan Moses could be a quick fix.
With Patrick Mekari likely sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Ravens need stability at right tackle, now more than ever. Jets offensive tackle Morgan Moses could be a quick fix. (Adam Hunger/AP)

The Ravens don’t have a lot of salary cap space to make trades work. If you were general manager Eric DeCosta, which player would you target for a possible acquisition?

Walker: Everything pointed to a right tackle as their most likely target after Mekari hurt his ankle, but then they signed veteran Cedric Ogbuehi. So a trade to fill that hole seems less likely. Would DeCosta consider pursuing a running back such as Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Marlon Mack of the Indianapolis Colts? Mack would help, and he’s on a cheap one-year deal, but that doesn’t mean the Colts would be eager to flip him for a late-round pick. Nothing in DeCosta’s track record suggests he would pay more than that for a running back. So the odds are against a trade coming together.

Shaffer: I’m not the first to suggest Morgan Moses, but with Mekari likely sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Ravens need stability at right tackle, now more than ever. Sure, Tyre Phillips could grow into the role as he finds his footing after a stint on injured reserve. But Moses has played well for the New York Jets, won’t cost much as a rental and isn’t even protecting top pick Zach Wilson anymore. If the Ravens are willing to part with draft capital, he’d be an obvious upgrade.

Doon: The Ravens have made a trade at the deadline each of the past three seasons (Ty Montgomery in 2018, Marcus Peters in 2019, Yannick Ngakoue in 2020), so there’s precedent for DeCosta to be aggressive. I like the idea of adding Mack, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2019 and is only 25, but I’d be more interested in trying to swing a deal for an offensive tackle like Moses or the Philadelphia Eagles’ Andre Dillard, a former first-round pick who still has two years left on his rookie deal.

The Ravens have been one of the NFL’s most run-heavy offenses and most aggressive defenses. Given their early-season struggles, which tendency will change the most over the second half of the season?

Walker: It’s difficult to envision the Ravens abandoning the run with Greg Roman as their offensive coordinator. We saw they can still brutalize a bad defense when they routed the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6. But they cannot gash more formidable fronts, a reality that hit home again in their 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Even when the offensive line clears space, the Ravens do not have running backs who capitalize with double-digit gains. That leaves a massive burden on Jackson, who is still averaging 6.3 yards per carry because he’s a magician as a scrambler. Even he is finding less room on designed runs. All of which tells us the Ravens are going to have to rely on Jackson’s arm against the better defenses they play.

This is not a bad thing. Jackson is a more effective deep thrower in his fourth season, and he’s working with a legitimately exciting set of pass catchers for the first time in his career. He’ll still use his legs to give defensive coordinators heart palpitations on third down. But the regular 200-yard rushing performances (five in six weeks at the end of last season) probably won’t come back until 2022.

Shaffer: The 2021 Ravens are already markedly different than recent iterations — they’re passing more on early downs and blitzing less overall. Given the talent deficiency at running back, though, and the more-than-solid personnel in the Ravens’ secondary, it’s not hard to imagine the team embracing Jackson’s desire to become more pass-heavy. Just look at the receiving talent he’ll have when he drops back.

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Defensively, the Ravens’ pressure schemes have left them vulnerable and exposed their shortcomings as tacklers. But blitzing is in the DNA of not just coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale but also John Harbaugh. It’s also reasonable to expect more consistent coverage from inside linebacker Patrick Queen and cornerbacks Humphrey and Tavon Young over the second half of the season.

Doon: Given who’s blocking and carrying the football for the Ravens these days, it’s hard to see the rushing attack suddenly finding its groove. The Ravens invested in Watkins and Bateman this offseason with the idea of becoming a better passing team, and so far it’s paid dividends. It’ll be fascinating to see what the Ravens offense looks like with Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Watkins and Bateman all on the field at the same time.

Quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals are in the driver's seat in the AFC North.
Quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals are in the driver's seat in the AFC North. (Gail Burton/AP)

The Ravens and Bengals are atop the AFC North. The Browns are just a game behind. Who’s the favorite?

Walker: The Bengals are the obvious pick right now. They just thrashed the Ravens, and they have an easier schedule the rest of the way. But they have benefited from relatively good luck with injuries, and we have not seen a Joe Burrow-led team hold up against the inevitable twists and countermeasures that come with any NFL season. The Bengals have the talent to keep rolling. They just have to prove it. The Browns have the best offensive line and the highest defensive ceiling, but their quarterback has a bum shoulder. Which brings us back to the Ravens. They have always found a way to adjust with Jackson at quarterback and Harbaugh as their coach. They have already dealt with terrible injury luck, yet they’re 5-2. Football Outsiders still lists them as a slight favorite to win the division, and that sounds about right.

Shaffer: Cincinnati. The Ravens have the NFL’s second-toughest remaining schedule, according to Football Outsiders, and the Browns have the fifth-toughest. As for the Bengals? They’re at No. 17. That might be enough to separate in what should be a neck-and-neck-and-neck race.

Cleveland has the most talent in the division, and it should control the line of scrimmage in every AFC North matchup it enters. But quarterback Baker Mayfield’s injury situation could hold the Browns back. The Ravens will need Jackson and their special teams to carry them until their defense gets sorted out. Cincinnati, meanwhile, can’t always rely on its offense, no matter what it showed Sunday. Still, no unit in the division has been more impressive than the Bengals’ defense, and that might be enough in the long run.

Doon: The Ravens. It’s not that I don’t believe in the Bengals, and it’s certainly too early to count out the Browns with all their talent. But the Ravens have a much longer track record of success with Jackson as the starting quarterback. I trust him to play at a high level more consistently than Burrow or Mayfield.

VIKINGS@RAVENS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 6

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