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The Ravens have an uphill battle to go against the Arizona Cardinals tonight on Monday Night Football. With a passing attack that has been very potent and a defense that has been one of the league's best, the Ravens are not expected to do well and slide into 1-6.
While the season is doing badly, there are still things that you can pay attention to that can help the Ravens not only this season, but moving forward. The more games that the Ravens lose, the more that you will see younger players hit the field and audition for bigger roles moving forward. It's how we've seen guys like Brandon Williams get into the position he is this season and we've seen guys like Ricky Wagner get his chance to do bigger things only to be brought up the following season.
This will be a consistent theme this season. Starting cornerback Jimmy Smith looks like he is finally getting back to his early 2014 form, likely still recovering from his Linsfranc surgery. Lardarius Webb looks more comfortable in the slot role, but with injuries and poor play coming from the rest of the secondary, defensive coordinator Dean Pees could look to move him around at a bunch of different spots not only for the good of the team this season, but to audition him and his big contract for 2016. The Ravens were really interested in cornerback Shareece Wright and he did decently outside of a few big plays against the 49ers. The Ravens will look for him to improve against a much better passing offense and hopefully help seal the hole in the secondary for this season. At this point, if you are a cornerback, practice and gametime situations could get you a longer contract from the Ravens and even be the favorite to start in 2016 if you do well enough.
It is generally assumed that Joe Flacco is going to be asked to rework his contract in the offseason. The Ravens desperately need the cap space to improve the team in the short term and resign their own players and Flacco's cap number will hurt that unless it's changed. The Ravens will want to see which Flacco shows up tonight against a better secondary in the Cardinals. We've seen him make some of the best throws in the league this season and we've also seen him lame duck passes to the defense. The Ravens need more consistency from Flacco in this season to win games regardless of how many points the offense is scoring and how many the defense is giving up. This season will definitely alter how his contract negotiations go and he is auditioning for more money, make no qualms about it.
The Ravens have made it no secret that they really like John Urschel at a variety of spots on this line. With a big contract going to Marshal Yanda to lock him up as a Raven for life, the Ravens will probably want to lessen their cap hit from the rest of the offensive line. That could mean letting left guard Kelechi Osemele go during free agency, shedding center Jeremy Zuttah's contract this offseason or maybe even trying to slide someone to left tackle and getting rid of Eugene Monroe. Urschel is not proven in a full season, but if players continue to lack hustle and if their play gets any worse, the Ravens could have their decision made for them.
The secondary has been the weak point without a doubt. While cornerback gets all the hate around these parts, safety Kendrick Lewis is not doing his part to help anyone out. With Lewis questionable due to injury and Terrence Brooks out with injury in this game, the Ravens could be auditioning one of their young safeties tonight against Carson Palmer and his explosive weapons. Anthony Levine Sr. is the next up on the depth chart, but look for the Ravens to maybe try some different pairings as well. If it works out well, Lewis might have his contract cut short in favor of a player that fits the 80/20 rule like Levine.
Steve Smith is killing it this season and is on pace for over 1500 yards through the air. Impressive for a 36-year old receiver, especially one on a team where he is the only consistent weapon. There has been some talk going around that he could reconsider his retirement, but that talk is premature and speculative. If Smith does indeed retire, the Ravens have no wide receiver that they would feel confident in as Kamar Aiken is great for a game and then disappears for the next, while Marlon Brown has been seen less than Breshad Perriman. With the Ravens pulling guys from the practice squad and putting Jeremy Ross on the field last week, it looks like they are seeing what they have for the future. If you get open, can catch the ball and make something happen with the ball in your hands, you might be the odds on favorite in 2016 to see one of the top receiver spots on the depth chart. Fail to show up in games (cough cough Marlon Brown) and you won't be on this squad come week 1.
Like we mentioned, this season might be essentially over for the Baltimore Ravens. But the plus side is that we get to see what the Ravens have in terms of depth. This is the time when the diamonds in the rough can shine the best. Keep an eye on this game and you might get a chance to see the first signs of where the Ravens will turn in the offseason.