Expect the Ravens to make a few moves this week to potentially get a look at a couple of guys and add to their roster heading into the offseason.
Coach John Harbaugh has already said that cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle sprain) likely won’t play against the Bengals, so he could be placed on injured reserve. You have to figure that the Ravens also won’t play right tackle Rick Wagner, who sustained a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he too could be moved to IR to open up a roster spot.
Wagner is a free agent following the season. If he has played his final game with the team, the Ravens got nice value from the 2013 fifth-round pick. Wagner started 47 regular-season games and played in all but two games over four seasons.
Uncertain future: Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti doesn’t attend all of his team’s road games. So the narrative that his absence from Pittsburgh on Sunday is because of a discontent with Harbaugh or the team is a reach. However, there will continue to be speculation on Harbaugh’s future – there was even a bogus report on Twitter that he was fired Monday night – until the owner addresses the matter. That likely won’t happen until the “State of the Ravens” address, which takes place reasonably soon after the end of the season.
Pacing of the final drive: You read and hear a lot of weird things following Ravens’ losses because of fan frustration, and the popular suggestion Sunday night that fullback Kyle Juszczyk should have gone down rather than trying to score on his eventual 10-yard, go-ahead touchdown run late in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers is very high on the list. This, after all, is a Ravens team that has had one of the worst red-zone offenses in the league all year and has repeatedly set itself back with ill-timed turnovers, penalties and mistakes.
If you’re Juszczyk, you try to score – no questions asked. Maybe, it’s fair to question quarterback Joe Flacco for not letting the play clock tick down a little further on several of those plays late in the drive, but there’s also a fine line between going too fast and slowing up and upsetting the tempo on a great drive.
The Ravens moved fast for much of the drive because if they got stopped and had to punt or settle for a field goal, they wanted to leave as much time on the clock as possible in order to get the ball back. They slowed down a bit as they got closer to the end zone, but Flacco and the coaches clearly felt they had the Steelers’ defense on its heels and they wanted to remain in attack mode. It’s tough to dispute that mindset, although the Ravens won’t get the benefit of the doubt because offensive pace has been an issue at different points of the season.
Pitta's fine comeback year: As he prepared to leave the visiting locker room at Heinz Field on Sunday night, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was carrying a large ice pack. It was a fitting sight after Pitta played 58 of the Ravens’ 75 offensive snaps, caught eight balls for 75 yards and shrugged off a couple of huge hits by the Steelers. I’m sure many Ravens fans had a hard time dwelling on any positives after the loss, but the way Pitta absorbed some of those hits and kept coming was an exclamation point to a remarkable comeback season.
Just 20 players in the NFL – and only one tight end (Kansas City’s Travis Kelce) - have caught more balls this year than Pitta, who has 75 receptions in 15 games. To call Pitta’s performance and health one of the bright spots of an unfulfilling Ravens’ season would be an understatement.
Stanley solid at tackle: The Ravens also have to feel good about the development of rookie first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Just as it was inappropriate to pan Stanley after he struggled for two weeks following his return from a foot injury, it’s far too early to label him a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle. However, it isn’t premature to suggest he’s on his way to becoming one.
Stanley fared well in his rematch with Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, the latest sign of how much the sixth-overall pick has improved throughout the year. The quiet rookie also has started to play with a mean streak. Two weeks ago, he was finishing a block in the end zone against two Philadelphia Eagles on Kenneth Dixon’s touchdown run. Against the Steelers, he was hustling down the field on running plays and dump-offs and looking for contact.
It’s easy to lament what could have been had Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott or Jalen Ramsey been available when the Ravens were on the clock, or on how the Ravens could have had Ramsey if they were just willing to trade their first and third-round picks to the Dallas Cowboys to move up to No. 4. Bosa, Elliott and Ramsey have all been spectacular this year. However, the Ravens are feeling pretty good about Stanley, too, and another offseason in the weight room should do him so good.
What happened to Jernigan?: With how dominant Timmy Jernigan was at times at the start of the season, it’s inconceivable to me that the young defensive lineman has gone three straight games without so much as a tackle. Jernigan’s snaps have been reduced a bit with the emergence of Michael Pierce, he’s attracted more attention from offensive lines and he’s been banged up. But his lack of splash plays in recent weeks has been a huge factor in the defense’s struggles.
Costly mistakes: Center Jeremy Zuttah’s six penalties aren’t a team-high. Rookies Tavon Young and Stanley lead the Ravens with nine and seven respectively. However, it just seems that several of Zuttah’s infractions were backbreakers. The latest one came late in the third quarter against the Steelers when the Ravens should have had a first-and-goal after a nice run by Dixon. However, Zuttah was flagged for a holding penalty on a play that seemed unnecessary because Dixon had already passed through the hole.
Housekeeping for 2017: With one week to go, the 8-7 Ravens are currently slotted to pick 17th overall in the 2017 draft. However, that number will change depending on what happens in Week 17. The Ravens are one of five teams with eight wins. Four teams have seven victories while another four have nine. So a lot still has to be sorted out there.
Their 2017 schedule, however, is set, aside from one opponent. At home, the Ravens will get the Steelers, Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins. On the road, the Ravens will play the Steelers, Bengals, Browns, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars (in London), Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and the second-place finisher this season in the AFC West. That will either be the Oakland Raiders (12-3) or Kansas City Chiefs (11-4).
Campanaro more consistent: Michael Campanaro has stabilized the Ravens’ punt return game the past two weeks and added a new wrinkle on offense, taking two handoffs for 61 total yards. What he’s also done is affirmation that the Ravens made a mistake in sticking with Devin Hester Sr. as long as they did.
Hester didn’t cost the Ravens any games – his gaffe against the New England Patriots did contribute to a miserable start – but he did consistently cost them field position by not stepping up and fair catching punts. Campanaro has provided a contrast by confidently fielding punts and getting up the field for positive yards. Obviously, Campanaro has to prove he can stay healthy, but he’s worth holding onto heading into next year.