Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about early evaluations, trade deadline, 2024 free agents and more

The Ravens enter this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at 5-2 and atop the AFC North but still with plenty of questions in what has been an uneven start to the year.

As the midpoint of the season approaches, will they continue to display the kind of dynamic and explosive offense they showed in a blowout win over the Detroit Lions, or will they regress, as has sometimes been the case? What about wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman, who have 14 and 12 catches apiece for 162 and 118 yards, respectively, but have yet to find the end zone? The defense has been elite, allowing an NFL-low 13.9 points per game while racking up a league-high 29 sacks, but can they continue to get to the quarterback?

We dive into these and other pressing questions as the Ravens approach the second half of the season.

We’ve seen the Ravens at their best (vs. Lions) and at their worst (at Steelers). What’s your assessment of this team after seven games?

Brian Wacker: The Ravens are much closer to the team they were against the Lions than they were against the Steelers. For all their inconsistencies, miscommunications and habit of playing down to lesser opponents, it’s important to remember they had a number of injuries through the first handful of games, notably in the secondary and on the offensive line, and that almost none of the offense played in the preseason, meaning it was always going to take time for them to jell.

Baltimore’s defense is also performing at an elite level and figures to only get better as the season goes on. Inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen are a formidable duo and Justin Madubuike has already matched his career high in sacks for a season.

Now largely healthy, if the Ravens can stay that way and continue to build on offense, quarterback Lamar Jackson will be in the conversation for a second NFL Most Valuable Player award.

Childs Walker: The Ravens aren’t as good as they looked Sunday, but then, no one is. Aaron Schatz of FTN Fantasy noted that by his DVOA measure of team efficiency, their performance against Detroit was the 14th-best in a single game since 1981. The Ravens are more that team, however, than the one we saw tossing away a lead against the offensively challenged Steelers. They’ve outplayed each of their seven opponents and could easily be 7-0 despite hiccups in the second half and in the red zone. Their defense has performed remarkably well in the face of injuries to key players, and their offense was, as tight end Mark Andrews said, a sleeping giant before it awoke fully against the Lions.

Logic always said the Ravens would be a work in progress through the early part of the season. Their best players did not suit up together until the season opener, they needed time to master coordinator Todd Monken’s offense, and a barrage of early injuries did not help. We saw similar stumbles before they took off in 2019, Lamar Jackson’s first full season as starting quarterback. If their injury luck holds, they’ll be formidable the rest of the way.

The Ravens lead the league in sacks despite missing Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo for most of the season. Will they finish the season No. 1?

Brian Wacker: It seems unlikely, especially given the back half of their schedule, but they’ll still finish near the top of the league in sacks. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has done a masterful job of disguising looks, utilizing stunts and bringing pressure from unexpected places to create chaos. Madubuike, as mentioned, is having a monster season in a contract year. But not having an elite edge rusher who racks up double-digit sacks will keep them from finishing No. 1.

Childs Walker: No. Their pressure rate is more middle of the pack than elite, and they’re still lacking an edge rusher who will consistently beat his blocker one-on-one. They have good pass rushers all over the field, and Macdonald, a hot name on lists of potential head coaches, is adept at giving them free runs at the quarterback using stunts, simulated pressures and other nifty tricks. But the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are generating so many more pressures that it’s hard to imagine one of them will not surpass the Ravens on the sacks chart.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman have offered very little production thus far. Should the Ravens be concerned?

Brian Wacker: No. Beckham turns 31 on Nov. 5 and was never going to put up consistently big numbers, especially with so many other targets to feed like rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, tight end Mark Andrews, Bateman and others. Still, he has elite hands, is capable of the occasional big play and brings a wealth of knowledge to the room. Bateman’s injury history and occasional lack of involvement would perhaps be a bit more concerning, but aside from a dropped touchdown against the Steelers has performed well when given the opportunity. The key is keeping him engaged and taking advantage of his speed and playmaking.

Childs Walker: The Ravens knew there was considerable risk built into their plan at wide receiver, so they can’t be shocked Beckham and Bateman have already missed time. Beckham exceeded expectations in training camp and has played well enough when healthy. In 2021, he was a postseason standout for the Los Angeles Rams after a modestly productive regular season. The Ravens would be just fine with him following the same formula this season. Bateman is more concerning because he’s midway through his third year and has yet to enjoy an extended stretch of good health and good production. He can’t control the injuries but needs to be more consistent with his hands when opportunities come. That said, he looked good against the Lions and has done a nice job adding value as a chip blocker.

The trade deadline is Tuesday. Which positions could use help, and who should the Ravens target?

Brian Wacker: Even though the Ravens lead the league in sacks, they lack the kind of edge rusher who is an every week difference maker that opponents have to scheme against. Danielle Hunter would be an obvious one, but impactful pass rushers are also costly. The Ravens have managed to be one of the league’s best defenses without one, though surely they would like one. Likewise, a lockdown outside cornerback would upgrade the secondary and allow Marlon Humphrey to work more inside as needed, but that would again be costly in terms of capital.

The best option would be adding a difference-making running back. Justice Hill and Gus Edwards have done a more than admirable job carrying the load after the Ravens lost J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon, but the Titans’ Derrick Henry or Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, both of whom would be happy to play elsewhere, have the ability to rip off big chunk runs that would elevate the offense to another level.

Childs Walker: Pass rushers are the stars of this deadline. As well as Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy have played, the Ravens could use another one. Are Danielle Hunter, Brian Burns and Chase Young actually available? It’s probably best to be skeptical, though Carl Lawson, who has fallen down the New York Jets’ depth chart, could be a value play.

The Ravens’ secondary has wildly exceeded expectations, but general manager Eric DeCosta likes to say he can never have enough cornerback depth. Might he try for another big splash with the Chicago Bears, who have an excellent young cover corner, Jaylon Johnson, on the last year of his rookie deal? Johnson would give the Ravens an immediate upgrade, much as Marcus Peters did in 2019.

Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen, Geno Stone and J.K. Dobbins are among a long list of pending free agents in 2024. As of right now, who should the Ravens prioritize re-signing?

Brian Wacker: Assuming they’ll only be able to keep one given impending salary cap restraints, Madubuike is the one they can least afford to lose for the simple reason that they already have a stud inside linebacker in Roquan Smith and a talented safety group in Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams.

DeCosta has said he’d like to keep Queen, and maybe there will be a way to do it, but Madubuike is in the midst of a breakout season at a position where it’s not easy to find the kind of production and impact he’s having.

As for Dobbins, that’s a bit murkier. He’s had two major injuries, and the free agent running back market is brutal.

Childs Walker: If they had to pick one, Madubuike, because they don’t another player in the building with his skill set. Part of the reason they’re rolling up sacks without a superstar on the edge is Madubuike’s productivity on the interior. He has improved every season, and there simply aren’t a ton of defensive tackles capable of reaching double-digit sacks. Losing Queen would hurt, because he and Roquan Smith give the defense its special identity, but Smith would still be around to take on an understudy. Stone is pumping up his market value, but the Ravens might be able to re-sign him and one of Madubuike or Queen. As for Dobbins, it’s difficult to see him or the Ravens making a move before the offseason, when his health outlook will be clearer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous post Union Pacific Co. (NYSE:UNP) Stake Reduced by Atria Wealth Solutions Inc.
Next post TUC warns that removing bankers bonus cap will bring back “greed is good” culture