It’s no coincidence the offensive line has improved, especially with run blocking, since Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned against the Bengals on Oct. 9. Stanley has played at a high level despite missing 31 games since his original ankle injury in November 2020, and his presence gives this group a boost of confidence. Left guard Ben Powers is having the best season of his four-year career. Right tackle Morgan Moses excels at run blocking and right guard Kevin Zeitler has performed better than any of his linemates. Rookie center Tyler Linderbaum struggled with a big nose guard playing over top of him on Thursday, but he gets into the second level and cuts off linebackers. The Ravens still need to improve their pass protection, something that wasn’t an issue earlier in the season. Grade: B
The Ravens have gotten average production out of this group but can get more with some creativity from offensive coordinator Greg Roman and better accuracy from Jackson. Reigning All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews (42 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns) is Jackson’s go-to receiver and has had another strong year, but the Ravens need to incorporate speedy Devin Duvernay (24 catches, 313 yards, three touchdowns) more as both a receiver and running back. Second-year player Rashod Bateman would be more effective if he could stay healthy — he’s out for a few weeks after aggravating a foot injury last week against Tampa Bay. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely and veteran wideout Demarcus Robinson have become options in recent weeks. Jackson has to be better at reading the outside of the field so Robinson can become more of a downfield weapon, and Roman has to learn how to use more rubs and combination and clearing routes instead of just allowing Jackson to throw 30 times in a half like he did against Tampa Bay. Grade: C
Deep Postseason Contenders
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-3, last week: 4)
The Ravens’ dropback passing game remains a concern, but Lamar Jackson and the rushing attack are keeping the offense from cratering. Baltimore ranks first in EPA per rush (0.12) and second in yards before first contact per attempt (2.29). That über-efficient rushing attack has helped the Ravens to double-digit leads in every game they’ve played this season and the league’s third-highest point differential (73) in the first three quarters of games. The price to extend Jackson gets higher every week.
More than anything, Smith is a legitimate, in-his-prime playmaker in the middle of a defense. That is why the Ravens pulled the trigger on the deal. In their three losses this season, the Ravens’ defense collapsed in the fourth quarter. Even in three of their wins, the Ravens have struggled to get stops late in games.
That has been a source of great frustration with Ravens coaches and executives. If a Baltimore defensive player had been able to make one play late against the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants — a sack, an interception, a fourth-down stop even — those losses would have been avoided.
The Ravens have a lot of good on their defense. What they’ve lacked is an elite playmaker in their front seven to help close a game. Smith’s presence doesn’t guarantee the Ravens anything, but adding someone of his talent and skill set certainly makes Mike Macdonald’s defense a whole lot more formidable, dangerous and versatile.
Ravens Have Built-In Formula for Success with Addition Roquan Smith - Todd Karpovich
The Ravens addition of inside linebacker Roquan Smith can mask some of the issues with the offense that did not add an elite wide receiver in free agency that can take the top off opposing defenses.
That confidence centers around offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
“I think they can make it to the championship just because I think Greg Roman will start to evolve as he showed in the last game against Tampa Bay,” Amazon’s Richard Sherman said. “They went and tried to because everybody’s complaining about running, running, running predictable, predictable, predictable, so he throws the ball three times in the first half, just to prove a point and then go back to their bread and butter in the second half and wins the game.
“I literally played in a division with him playing on the Stanford football team that went to Orange Bowl with him. And he’s a great play caller and he can work with what he’s got. And so they, I think, it’ll be defensively where they’ll have to answer the bell going forward because in the playoffs you have a good run game but it’s gonna be a tight ballgame.”
Baltimore Ravens’ Unique Approach Proves to be Perfect Antithesis to NFL’S Groupthink - Terry O’Neil
The Ravens told us in April how they want to play by trading their WR1, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, then not replacing him in the draft despite having 11 picks.
They tell us by deploying a fullback on 71 percent of offensive snaps. They tell us by leading the league in frequency of 2- and 3-tight end formations. And they tell us with roster construction – a WR room that costs $6.9 million against the cap, a TE room (the NFL’s best) that costs $15.8 million.
Unaccountably last Thursday night in Tampa Bay, Baltimore deviated from its philosophy in the first half, throwing 30 passes against only seven runs, scoring a mere three points.
At halftime, the offensive line, top-5 league-wide, implored offensive coordinator Greg Roman to “run the f—ing ball.” The result: 26 second-half rushes for 204 yards, lifting their ground attack to second-ranked in the league.
NFL Week 9 picks: Underdog Titans shock the Chiefs, Buccaneers beat Rams, Saints stun Ravens on Monday night - John Breech
Baltimore (5-3) at New Orleans (3-5)
In theory, this should be the easiest game to pick in Week 9 and that’s mainly because Lamar Jackson almost never loses to NFC teams (he’s 13-1) and Andy Dalton almost never wins prime-time games (he’s 6-19 as a starter in his career).
In his past six prime-time starts, Dalton is 0-6 and he’s thrown nine interceptions compared to just eight touchdowns. Not only that, but in those six losses, Dalton’s team has lost by an average of 22 points per game.
That being said, the last time Dalton won a prime-time game, it came against the Ravens and I think he can lead the Saints to an upset here. The Ravens are extremely banged up — Rashod Bateman definitely won’t be playing while Gus Edwards and Mark Andrews are both dealing with injuries that could keep them out — and although conventional wisdom says never pick Dalton in a prime-time game, I’ve decided to throw conventional wisdom out the window this week.
The pick: Saints 23-20 over Ravens