The Ravens have work to do in the second half of the season.
At 4-5, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar place as they were 4-5 at this point last season too. They came back at 5-2 but fell short with a heartbreaking loss to the Bengals. Heading into the second half of the season, one may feel that this season is over, but as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend!”
In my opinion, the Ravens have four pivotal games this second half. The Bengals and Browns will give them a chance to gain some ground in the AFC North and finish as close as they can to first place. These two games are must wins in positioning themselves in the likely log jam of final seeded AFC teams at the end of the season.
The Chiefs and the Chargers are the other two pivotal AFC games where the Ravens will see how they measure up against two AFC powerhouse teams. The Chargers have quietly won five games in a row and are a very balanced team offensively and defensively. The Chiefs passing attack is as dangerous as ever but their defense is ranked near the bottom of the league in many categories.
The Chiefs will be a tall task but we all know the NFL is a “Any given Sunday” league and after proving they could hang with Drew Brees and the Saints, I believe the Ravens could pull out a victory if they can put together a solid offensive outing with John Brown providing some explosive plays and a balanced offense that includes a punishing run game. The Chargers provide an opportunity for the defense to ballhawk and grab some likely Philip Rivers interceptions, but containing Melvin Gordon will be key. Both games are on the road so the Ravens will need a full on “Us against the world” mindset entering enemy territory.
Best case scenario would be 3-1 in those games, even 2-2 may be enough. The current AFC playoff picture has the following teams “In the hunt.” The Dolphins, Titans, Ravens, Jaguars, Colts, Jets, and Broncos. The Ravens are more than capable of beating any of those teams and in my opinion can finish above them to close out the season.
So what is needed for second half success?
I believe the offense needs an injection of creativity and implementation of a run game. The Ravens offense needs to be balanced but also provide some threat of the unknown, and big play threats. The Lamar Jackson packages need to get more creative and not just run off-center right or left every time he is in. The tight ends also need to get more involved. Ben Watson alone, caught 60+ his last season and with a healthy Hayden Hurst and emerging Mark Andrews, they are more than capable of keeping the chains moving with a dual threat tight end attack.
Defensively the Ravens need consistency. The Wink Martindale defense has shown they will stay aggressive every game but the pass rush needs to get to opposing quarterbacks consistently and force more turnovers in every game. “Shutdown” Jimmy Smith must also return and truly lock down opposing receivers. All of the pieces are there as we have seen against the Titans, Saints and Bills, but they will need it each week for the second half of the season to make a strong push for the playoffs.
The offense needs to set up more screen plays, dedicated run game balance and run after catch opportunities for receivers. Joe Flacco needs to be able to get into a rhythm quickly and the best way to do that is by setting up a real ground game attack and then cashing in on the play action for deep passes to John Brown. Ty Montgomery is also a great way for this offense to exploit some mismatches by splitting him out wide and also using him in the screen game as a running back or split out wide as a receiver.
The Ravens have a great opportunity to go 5-2 best case, but will need to find a true offensive identity and defensive consistency to achieve this. At worst, they could go 3-4 and hope for a lot of things to fall their way to get into a wildcard spot. I am breaking down their hopes into what I see as two pivotal points in the second half, the first as their “AFC North” opportunity (Bengals & Browns) and their second opportunity, as the “AFC measuring stick” games (Chiefs & Chargers) to see where they ultimately stand.
Either way, buckle up for what will be a very exciting or bumpy second half of the season. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and stay united #RavensFlock