By Ashley Anderson
Although the Baltimore Ravens Ravens lead the AFC North with an 8-5 record, it feels like the sky is falling in Baltimore. Back-to-back divisional losses and more major injuries are threatening to derail this season. Getting on track will not be easy against the visiting Green Bay Packers. Here are the biggest questions facing Baltimore as they head into Sunday’s matchup.
3.) Is there any way the Ravens can slow down Aaron Rodgers?
On paper, the Ravens are badly overmatched against Aaron Rodgers. Already, their secondary was without Marcus Peters, DeShon Elliott, and Marlon Humphrey due to injury. Then, Chuck Clark, the defensive signal caller, landed on the Covid-19 list. Clark could still play if he tests negative Saturday, but the secondary will be painfully thin if he does not.
Baltimore brought fan favorite Tony Jefferson back into the fold, signing him to the practice squad. So far, he seems to look good in practice. Unfortunately, he likely has not had enough time to get back up to speed to make the calls.
Communication issues have reared their ugly heads periodically throughout this season. Forcing a less experienced player to relay Wink Martindale’s notoriously challenging calls could prove disastrous. Martindale indicated he wants a full-time player to wear the communication helmet, so it would not be a surprise if Anthony Averett takes on that responsibility.
Averett has committed his fair share of gaffes this season. Injuries forced him into a much larger role than initially expected, but Martindale said he believes Averett could be an All-Pro player. At this point, he has enough experience to thrive, but his performance is still uneven. He will already have his hands full with Davante Adams, so the added pressure may not be a solid plan. Could rookie Brandon Stephens get the call?
Another major issue is Baltimore’s lack of a pass rush. The Ravens have only registered 26 sacks on the year, and failing to pressure Rodgers is untenable. While players have expressed confidence in their ability to get home, the stats are not in their favor. If Baltimore has any chance of containing beating the Pack, containing Rodgers to some degree is a must.
2.) Can a ground and pound approach help Baltimore stay competitive offensively?
As the season wears on and the weather turns cold, the run game becomes more crucial. In recent weeks, Devonta Freeman has taken hold of a more lead-back role with Latavius Murray getting goal line carries. Since late November, Freeman is averaging about 15 carries per game.
Freeman put up 64-yards against the Browns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He has shown the ability to pick up tough yards, and the vision to make the most of a small crease. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman would be well served to give Freeman additional touches.
One thing that has flown a bit under the radar is Freeman’s impact on the passing game. Quietly, he has amassed 28 receptions for 178-yards and a touchdown. Whoever ends up under center for Baltimore would benefit from getting Freeman more involved in the quick passing game.
Controlling the clock is going to be a huge factor against Green Bay. Their offense is too explosive and high-powered to allow them the edge in time of possession. The Baltimore Ravens need to get back to their roots and employ a complex running attack that will keep pressure off their quarterback while keeping the Packers off the field. Now, the only question is whether Roman will get the memo.
1.) Will Lamar Jackson play?
After seeing Lamar Jackson go down with a sprained ankle, many Baltimore Ravens fans felt that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tyler Huntley very nearly pulled off a miracle comeback, but his two fumbles proved to be the difference. With Jackson not practicing all week, Huntley could very well be starting on Sunday.
A decision on Jackson’s official status will be made Sunday morning, but the Baltimore Ravens likely already know which direction they are headed. Baltimore’s coaches and players have voiced their confidence and support for Huntley throughout the week, and he seems poised to take the reins. A full week of practice with the ones could be the difference from a near comeback to a massive victory.
Huntley operates much in the same way as Jackson. Although he lacks a little bit of the speed Jackson possesses, Huntley is still a dangerous runner. Against the Browns, Huntley had such an impressive run at one point that you almost had to double check his jersey number.
What Huntley does not have is big game experience. Yes, he played for a bit in Baltimore’s playoff loss to Buffalo, and he started against the Bears this season. Still, he is not a former MVP, and he is essentially a rookie based on the amount of time he has played.
One thing going in Huntley’s favor, however, is the fact that Jackson had been in a month-long slump heading into last week. When Huntley came into the game, Baltimore actually looked better on offense. That is not to say Huntley is the better long-term answer, but he may be better for now.
Baltimore’s offensive line has resembled a turnstile at Disney Land this year. Jackson is seeing ghost, and he is constantly trying to hit the home run to cover for the stale offensive game plans being employed by Greg Roman. It has not been working, and maybe a break is exactly what he needs to hit reset. Allowing him to play on a bum ankle behind that line is akin to criminal negligence.
All that said, if Jackson can play, he will. Regardless of his recent performance, Jackson is Baltimore’s best hope of a deep playoff run. He is a former unanimous MVP, generational talent, and the emotional leader of the team. Now we just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday.