To be kind, the Ravens have been tough to watch this season. Not because they've been Cleveland Browns-level terrible; they've been a special type of mediocre that has made them uninteresting. They lack superstar talent. They lack compelling figures in general.
That said, there are still (at least) seven games to be played, and it's unlikely that you're going to choose to watch figure skating on Sundays instead anytime soon. So what storylines are the most compelling for the rest of the season? I can think of five.
1. What will the returns of Danny Woodhead and Terrance West mean for the backfield?
While getting Woodhead back on the field will presumably help, it seems unlikely it will drastically alter the season. The Ravens will have a conundrum with how to use their backs that may be more interesting from a fantasy football perspective than a real football perspective.
It's hard to imagine there's something West can do that Alex Collins hasn't proven to be better at. But for everything Collins does well as a runner, he's made almost no impact as a pass catcher, and it seems as though the Ravens don't trust him as a blocker. So does Woodhead simply replace Buck Allen and split time with Collins? Or do the Ravens consider splitting Woodhead out wide more often and keeping Allen or Collins on the field at the same time?
The offense isn't likely to catch a deep fried turkey-level of fire no matter how the backs are used, but the possibilities are certainly compelling.
2. Can things get so bad for Breshad Perriman that he's just outright benched?
The Perriman case is absolutely fascinating. The Ravens clearly decided they wanted to throw him the ball more before the bye, and that proved to be as disastrous as all of the targets he received earlier in the season. Baltimore doesn't have better options behind Perriman on the depth chart, but he's hurting the team so much with his inability to fight for the football (or just catch it when it hits him directly in the hands) that it's hard to justify him being on the field over … anyone else at all.
If he isn't benched altogether, the Perriman case remains compelling. He could potentially play just well enough to make himself a factor again going into the offseason. What do the Ravens do then? Do they ignore his second half and build a receiving corps without considering him as a factor? Or do they buy into it as him proving himself and build an offense with him as a focal piece?
I know. That thought alone probably has you scrambling to your nearest safe space.
3. Will the young pass rushers show ... something? Anything? At all?
The Ravens spent two of their first three draft picks on pass rushers this season. Combined with Matt Judon (second year) and Za'Darius Smith (third year), the team had to hope the quartet would develop at least one or two truly formidable forces.
Through nine games, the four players have combined for just 6.5 sacks. Not one of them is on pace to tally even six sacks for the season. (Judon leads so far with three.) The Ravens built a roster that was going to need to be dominant defensively because of the many deficiencies on offense. While 35-year-old Terrell Suggs has still managed to have his moments, this group absolutely has to be better than it's been.
4. Is the AFC bad enough that they can find their way into the playoffs?
This has been a popular topic of conversation of late. For as mediocre as the Ravens certainly are, their 4-5 record combined with their favorable schedule (including facing quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Tom Savage in the next two weeks), as well as the dearth of quality teams in the AFC has lead to a belief that perhaps they can find their way in even if they don't improve much.
Some fans might think a trip to the postseason at 9-7 or 8-8 would be as hollow as every bottle of wine at your mother's house next Thursday night. But it would at least avoid the team missing the playoffs for a third straight year and the fourth time in the past five years overall. The Buffalo Bills hold the sixth spot now but have turned to something called a Nathan Peterman under center. The Oakland Raiders can probably be better than they've been so far if quarterback Derek Carr can stay healthy. But in general, being mediocre may well prove to be enough for Baltimore to play at least a 17th game.
5. Does everything completely bottom out?
Ah, yes, the U.S. Soccer scenario. Some fans might argue the doomsday possibility is actually better than going 8-8 because this scenario would at least force change. This particular scenario is the one in which the Ravens get the benefit of missing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson but lose to those teams anyway. It's the scenario in which they just need to go 2-1 during their final stretch of games against the woeful Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals but they somehow lose two of them anyway.
This is the scenario in which they have no choice whatsoever but to make drastic changes, be they at coach, general manager or both. This might not be a particularly likely scenario, but there's certainly a better than zero percent chance of it playing out.
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