The Baltimore Ravens got a pair of positive developments on the injury front over the past two weeks that will provide major boosts for the team on both sides of the ball with the return of starting running back J.K. Dobbins and starting free safety Marcus Williams to the practice field.
Both players were designated to return from injured reserve within a week of each other after being out since October but fans will have to wait at least another week to see one or both of them. Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that are both a “no-go” for the team’s Week 13 AFC matchup with the visiting Denver Broncos.
He described this week of practice as “kind of a ramp week” for both players and liked what he saw from Dobbins especially since he recovered from his arthroscopic knee surgery to remove scar tissue and improve range of motion.
“He looked good, and I’m looking forward to seeing him next week,” Harbaugh said. “I think next week we’ll be having a conversation with both those guys in terms of whether they can play or not.”
Williams has been out the longest between the two of them since suffering a dislocated wrist in the team’s Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Dobbins had his surgically repaired knee stemming from a torn ACL he suffered last year “tighten up” the following Week in the Ravens’ loss to the New York Giants and he went on injured reserve after electing to undergo the clean-up procedure.
While the Ravens haven’t consistently struggled to run the ball or cover in the secondary in their absence outside of the last week’s disastrous fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team has missed the playmaking element that both players provide to their respective side of the ball.
Dobbins is the most well-rounded and dynamic running back on the Ravens’ roster when healthy. He can run with power, break tackles, get to the edge, possess great contact balance, can be elusive in space, and is a weapon out of the backfield. Gus Edwards will start until he’s ready to roll and veteran Kenyan Drake can provide a spark as a change-of-pace slasher when given more than two carries and one target a game.
Prior to his untimely injury, Williams recorded three interceptions in the team’s first five games and is still tied for the team lead in that statistical category as well as pass deflections with five. Even though third-year pro Geno Stone has performed more than admirably in his stead, the Ravens miss their ball-hawking centerfielder in the defensive backfield that consistently makes plays on the ball and eliminates tight throwing windows that accurate quarterbacks can find and hit with perfect placement.
The Ravens have only ruled out one play on the final injury report, second-year wide receiver Tylan Wallace who will sit out with a hamstring that caused him to miss practice all week. Their four players listed as questionable to play are All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, stud rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and reserve linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips.
Top 3 Ravens Storylines for Week 13 vs. Broncos
Will the defense bounce back and play a complete game?
After yielding just 16 points in their previous two games, the Ravens defense allowed 18 in the fourth quarter alone against the Jaguars in Week 12 that included a pair of long matriculating drives that consisted of 13-plus more plays, covered 75-play yards and ended in touchdowns. The unit was playing lights out on that side of the ball for the first three-quarters of the game outside of one drive where Jacksonville got the ball at midfield. They’ll be looking to rebound and will be primed to do so against a woefully underwhelming Broncos offense that struggles to consistently move the ball on the ground as well as through the air and has failed to score more than 23 points in a game this season.
Will the offense continue to struggle in the red zone?
While the Ravens’ offense has been efficient in marching the ball up and down the field between the 20s, they’ve had a hard time finishing drives in the end zone for touchdowns as of late and have had to settle for short field goals more often than not. They’ve scored five touchdowns to seven field goals in their last three games since going 3-of-6 on their red zone trips in Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their inability to maximize their scoring opportunities deep in opposing territory gave the Jaguars confidence and left the door open for them to come back last week.
Improving in that area of the game was an emphasis for the team in practice this week and starting quarterback Lamar Jackson feels “pretty good” about the progress they made and thinks their adjustments are “great, actually” can’t wait to apply them in live-action when it counts.
“We’re going to have to see when the game starts,” Jackson said in a press conference on December 3. “Anything can look good in practice, but when everyone is flying around and people are trying to get after it, some things might not look good. So, we’re going to have to see,” Jackson said.
Will offensive plays get called and snapped faster?
Another struggle for the offense that was a debilitating issue last week was how long it took for the Ravens to get the plays in, communicated, and ran before the play clock. While offensive coordinator Greg Roman said that the team experienced technical difficulties that led to communication problems in Week 12, the unit getting to the line and getting the ball snapped just before or as the final seconds ticked off the play clock is an issue that has spanned multiple seasons. If they want to avoid unnecessarily burning timeouts and avoid delay of game penalties that can disrupt the flow of a promising drive, they’ll need to make sure plays are being clearly communicated and snapped in a timely fashion whether the headsets are malfunctioning or not.
Key Ravens Matchups for Week 13 vs. Broncos
Ravens Pass Rush v Broncos O-Line
This game will feature one of the most productive pass-rushing units in the league going up against one of its poorest pass-protecting units. Baltimore has recorded the fourth most sacks (35) of any defense through 11 games while Denver has allowed the fourth most sacks (36) according to Pro Football Reference. The Ravens have recorded three or more sacks in seven straight games which is the longest active streak in the NFL and the likelihood of them extending it to eight in a row is very high.
Two players to keep an eye on in their front seven are veteran defensive end Calais Campbell is only one sack away from reaching the century mark for his career and second-year pro Odafe Oweh who only has one sack on the year which came in Week 4. In addition to having a potent pass rush, the Ravens are extremely stout against the run as well. According to Pro Football Reference, they have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards (902), yards per attempt (3.9), and rushing first downs (56).
Ravens Secondary v Russell Wilson
Baltimore’s defensive backfield was the main culprits in their Week 12 fourth-quarter collapse in the eyes of former Ravens’ quarterback Robert Griffin III after they allowed 2021 No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, to carve them up to the tune of 321 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a career-high passer rating of 129.8. After allowing Lawrence and the lowly Jaguars to get back on track last week, their secondary will be determined not to let the same happen against a reeling Broncos team led by a struggling Russell Wilson who is responsible for one of the most inept passing attacks in the league.
The Broncos pass catchers are coming into this game hobbled and ailing. Leading receiver Courtland Sutton is dealing with an illness, Jerry Jeudy missed two days of practice with an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the past two weeks, and KJ Hamler has already been ruled out with an injured hamstring. Two Ravens defensive backs that will be looking to bounce back after giving up key conversions and scores last week are All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters and second-year pro Brandon Stephens.
Ravens Pass Catchers v Broncos Secondary
After committing several bad drops that stalled drives and cost the team points, the Ravens’ wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs will be looking to atone for a lackluster performance against a banged-up Broncos that will be without starting free safety K’Waun Williams who was downgraded to out on Saturday. They still have standout second-year pro Patrick Surtain II but with no true No. 1, there’s no telling who he will follow.
It’ll be interesting to see how the reps and target share play out at tight end particularly with the return of rookie Isaiah Likely after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury that opened the for Josh Oliver to his best game as a pro. After making the most of his last standard elevation from the practice squad, veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson got called up to the game-day roster again and hopefully will continue to provide the Ravens’ offense with a dangerous vertical threat.
Lamar Jackson v Broncos Defense
While Wilson and the Denver offense has been dreadful for most of the season, their defense has been one of the more impressive units in the league this year even after trading away former top 10 pick Bradley Chubb to the Miami Dolphins at the midseason trade deadline. They’ve been able to keep the Broncos in games that would’ve otherwise gotten out of hand yet they have wilted at times late in games because their offense can’t stay on the field.
Jackson hasn’t had a game where he’s totaled more than two combined touchdowns since he scored four in back-to-back games in Weeks 2 and 3. Even if he gets off to a bit of a slow start early on, this could be the week he returns to MVP form against another lesser opponent.