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How Can Inconsistent Ravens Steady the Ship?

Lamar Jackson hurdles against the New England Patriots
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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The Ravens currently sit atop the AFC North with a 6-3 record, and appear on the verge of getting some important players back on the field sooner than later. On the surface, they seem to be sitting kind of pretty heading into the guts of the 2021 season.

Of course, that’s a slippery surface this season.

In an AFC that has seen half its teams alternate between looking like the class of the conference and the group punching bag, it would seem like the stars would be aligned for Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Ronnie Stanley, Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters to lead this team to The Promised Land. The prevailing problem, obviously, is that Jackson is the lone name from that list who will suit up again for the 2021 Ravens. And the secondary problem, if we’re being honest, is that the players and coaches who have been available for this team are not consistently putting forth stellar performances.

That creates an issue. Shorthanded is one thing. Shorthanded and woefully inconsistent is another.

But as we mentioned before, the AFC is not lost, by any means. Teams like Buffalo, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee and, yes, Baltimore, have all appeared to be amongst the cream of the AFC crop, only to be humbled by injuries or poor play. The cream of the AFC crop, it would appear, has somewhat curdled.

So, all is not lost. Nor should we be writing an epitaph for any team featuring a winning record at this stage of the season. There is still nearly half the season left, and whatever AFC team finds its legs and performs the best during this stretch run will be the prohibitive favorite going into the playoffs.

Could that team be the Ravens? Sure. But a few things will have to break right for that to happen.

Catch a spark

Something has to flip for the Ravens to generate that wave of momentum we’d like to see it riding into the postseason. Maybe the returns of Nick Boyle, Patrick Mekari and Latavius Murray can help get the run game back in gear. Maybe the defense can stabilize and prevent some of these huge plays that have all-too-often broken the unit’s proverbial back. Maybe Odafe Oweh goes off and starts creating mayhem for opposing quarterbacks.

Maybe?

It could just take a dominant offensive performance, from the opening possession of the game deep into the fourth quarter that boosts the confidence of the entire team, or an avalanche of turnovers falling the defense’s way that steals opponents’ possessions.

The team needs a spark. How it comes really doesn’t matter if it gets them going.

MVP becomes the UMVP

Jackson sets the tone for the Ravens offense, and has been instrumental in whatever success the team has had moving the ball and putting up points. His competitive spirit and sheer will have bought the team two to three wins this season they probably had no business winning. And, yes, he is firmly in the MVP discussion at this stage.

What this Ravens team needs if they want to win a championship is for Jackson to morph from MVP-level Jackson to Unanimous-MVP-Level Jackson. And, yeah, that’s a tall order. But with so many missing pieces on this offense, and so much uncertainty on both the offensive and defensive units, we need to see some of those “Jackson Fives” if the Ravens hope to overcome their other deficiencies.

That’s a tall order — and an unfair one to place on any singular player in this ultimate of team sports. However, that’s the Ravens’ reality this year. They need Superman.

House of thieves

In order for this version of the Ravens to reach the zenith of the league, they have to do a little “stealing.”

That means “stealing” possessions from opponents with turnovers or sacks that put them behind ideal down-and-distance situations. It means “stealing” points on special teams with return touchdowns or flipped field position. It means “stealing” points with explosive plays on offense.

Like it or not, the Ravens this season are a mediocre team from top to bottom, with some gamebreakers who can “steal” wins through their individual performances.

Change the script

It’s been opined that one reason the Ravens have struggled at the start of games on offense is because each team is coming in with a unique defensive game plan to try to stop the Ravens’ unorthodox offense.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the Ravens to come out with something to catch those defenses’ unawares. An early end-around by Devin Duvernay last week picked up 19 yards. Maybe a no-huddle, hurry-up offense on the opening possession. Maybe load up with three tight ends and an extra offensive lineman and just bully those blitzing defensive backs we can expect to see going forward? Maybe something to just be on the offense instead of reacting to opposing defenses?

The Ravens have shown this season they have the ability to come back when needed. It would be nice to have the chance to play with a lead now and then.

Can it happen?

Absolutely it can happen. As we’ve pretty much beaten to death, the AFC is wide open this season, and there’s every reason in the world to believe in Jackson and this team’s ability to beat any team it faces.

Tall order? Sure. Possible? Sure.

During a season of uncertainty and flavor-of-the-week AFC favorites, “possible” puts you squarely in the mix.

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