After a long slog, the Baltimore Ravens received some much needed rest during their late bye in Week 13. Not only that, but losses from Kansas City, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh all improved the team’s playoff positioning in the division and conference, leaving Baltimore in control of its playoff destiny with five weeks left in the season.
While Baltimore will secure the one seed in the AFC if they win out, their remaining schedule is a gauntlet with consecutive games against the Jaguars, 49ers, and Dolphins - three of the league’s best. Through thirteen weeks of football, the Ravens have shown flashes of a Super Bowl team. Unfortunately, they’ve also shown flashes of the same old Ravens who are allergic to closing out games.
These next five weeks will show a lot about the 2023 Ravens. Can they beat a team like San Francisco? Can they contain an explosive offense like Miami’s? Can they avenge last year’s loss at Jacksonville? If the Ravens want the AFC to run through Baltimore come January, they need to do these three things after the bye.
Let Keaton Mitchell loose
At this point, the cat should be out of the bag. Undrafted rookie running back Keaton Mitchell is as explosive as they come, regardless of position. In limited opportunities, we’ve seen Mitchell rip off multiple 20+ yard runs, using his rare speed to bring yet another dangerous element to the Ravens offense. Amongst qualified running backs, Mitchell ranks second in yards per carry (9.3) behind fellow rookie speedster De’von Achane (9.5).
While veteran Gus Edwards has been great in his own respect, Mitchell has the ability to threaten opposing defenses in ways that Edwards simply can’t. In addition to his ability to threaten the perimeter of the defense, Mitchell has shown the ability to run in between the tackles, making him a potential three-down running back. If the Ravens want to put even more pressure on opposing defenses, they should let Mitchell handle a majority of the work in-between the 20’s, while letting Edwards take care of business near the goal-line, an area where he’s been more effective than almost any other running back in the league.
Entertain the possibility of benching Ronnie Stanley
Ronnie Stanley is not playing well right now. The bigger question is how much of it is a result of lingering injuries the former All-Pro suffered earlier in the season. The bye should give Stanley some much needed rest and time to heal but it remains to be seen if that will be enough to get Stanley back into form. Per PFF, Stanley has registered a porous 63.7 grade in 2023. On Sunday vs. the Chargers, Stanley was getting bullied by Khalil Mack for most of the night, resulting in multiple pressures which threw off the passing game. If Stanley doesn’t show signs of improvement in the coming weeks, it might be time to give swing lineman Patrick Mekari a shot.
Open up the intermediate passing game
While I understand the logic of developing the short passing game and getting the ball in the hands of their explosive playmaker, the sheer amount of quick screens to Zay Flowers have been overused. The only one that was particularly effective was vs. the Bengals two weeks ago and it got called back. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ravens are a poor screen team.
The offensive line, outside of Tyler Linderbaum, isn’t particularly versatile blocking downfield and the team just hasn’t utilized them in the Lamar Jackson era. Should they still be a part of the offense? Absolutely. However, with route runners like Flowers and Rashod Bateman, the focus should be pushing the ball down the field to those players and letting them create their own separation. Flowers is too dynamic a player and route runner to be relegated to jet sweeps and screens. The Ravens finally have the playmakers on the outside to win in man-to-man coverage. It’s time to let that thing fly and threaten defenses vertically.