The bye week gave John Harbaugh the time he needed to look at anything. So the Ravens coach looked at everything.

“You have the eye test, what you see on tape,” he said Monday. “You have the analytic test, what the numbers tell you. You look at all that stuff, and you say, ‘OK. What are we doing well? What are we not doing well, and where are our opportunities? What can we leverage to give our guys an advantage going forward to make plays and be the best players they can?’ ... You just do the best you can figuring all that stuff out, and you go forward and go fight.”

As the Ravens head into the most important stretch of their season, few teams are swinging harder. According to FTN, they have the NFL’s No. 5 offense, No. 1 defense and No. 2 overall team based on the metric DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). According to most oddsmakers, they have a top-six Most Valuable Player candidate in quarterback Lamar Jackson.

But the Ravens are far from perfect, and those imperfections could cloud their playoff hopes. Here’s a look at seven potentially fatal flaws.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs onto the field for the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Ill-timed injuries

The Ravens’ Super Bowl chances hinge on the health of Jackson, who missed their final four games in 2021 with a bone bruise in his ankle and their final six games in 2022 (including the playoffs) with a PCL sprain in his knee. So far, so good: Jackson has been by far the AFC North’s healthiest quarterback, with no snaps missed because of injury.

But the more the Ravens play, the more at risk their most vulnerable contributors become. On offense, wide receiver Rashod Bateman has already missed a game with a hamstring injury, while Odell Beckham Jr. has missed two with an ankle injury. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee, ankle) and right tackle Morgan Moses (shoulder) are banged up. Running backs Gus Edwards (toe), Justice Hill (toe) and Keaton Mitchell (hamstring) have all dealt with minor injuries.

On defense, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has defied his lengthy injury history to play in all 12 games this season, and Odafe Oweh has missed four games with an ankle injury. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who missed the start of the season while recovering from minor foot surgery, is coming back from a calf injury. Safety Marcus Williams is playing through a torn pectoral muscle. The Ravens have the defensive depth to withstand critical injuries over the short term, but the potential return of contributors like outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams would be welcome insurance policies.

Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens during warmups before the game at Heinz Field on Sept. 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

A brutal schedule

The Ravens might be the AFC’s best team. But a brutal homestretch could send them into the playoffs seeded as the AFC’s fourth-best team, or worse.

Over the next five weeks, the Ravens will face the NFL’s hardest schedule, according to FTN. Four of their remaining opponents — the San Francisco 49ers (No. 1), Miami Dolphins (No. 4), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 8) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10) — rank in the top 10 in DVOA. (The Jaguars, though, may be without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who reportedly suffered an ankle sprain during a 34-31 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on “Monday Night Football.”) The only opponent that doesn’t rank in the top 10, the Los Angeles Rams, has played like a top-10 team since Week 9.

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If the regular season ended this week, the difference between earning the AFC’s No. 2 seed and No. 4 seed could be negligible. How much better, really, would the Kenny Pickett-less, fifth-place Steelers be than the Joe Flacco-led, seventh-place Browns? But home-field advantage matters, whether that’s in the wild-card round, divisional round or AFC championship game.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) in action against Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams) (Terrance Williams/AP)

Shaky pass protection

The Ravens ended last season with one of the NFL’s best pass-blocking tackle duos. But in recent weeks, Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses have been the weak links up front.

Stanley, hampered throughout the season by injuries, has allowed four sacks and 28 quarterback pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Since Week 8, among the 37 left tackles with at least 100 snaps in that span, he has the 11th-highest blown-block rate on pass snaps (5.5%), according to Sports Info Solutions. Harbaugh said last week that the bye week could be beneficial for Stanley, but he acknowledged that the former All-Pro “needs to get stronger and get his technique right.”

Moses has the 16th-worst blown-block rate on pass snaps (5.3%) among the 42 qualifying right tackles since Week 6, his first game back after a shoulder injury. He also sat out Week 9 and Week 10. Swing tackle Patrick Mekari hasn’t been any more reliable on drop-backs, either. At left tackle, his blown-block rate this season is 7.8%; at right tackle, it’s 5.1%.

The Ravens have to find a solution soon. Over the next five weeks, they’ll face the Jaguars’ Josh Allen (13.5 sacks), the 49ers’ Nick Bosa (eight) and Chase Young (6.5), the Dolphins’ Bradley Chubb (6.5), and the Steelers’ T.J. Watt (14) and Alex Highsmith (six) on the edge.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs to recover a fumble during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Frightful fumbles

Jackson has fumbled 11 times this season and lost six of them, second most in the NFL, behind only Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs. (Two of those turnovers, it should be noted, came on botched handoffs with running back Justice Hill.)

And still, things could be worse. Jackson lost a fumble in two of the Ravens’ three losses, but neither was converted into a touchdown. The first, which came after an Indianapolis Colts sack, led to a go-ahead field goal late in the second quarter of the Ravens’ Week 3 overtime loss. The second had worse timing: Jackson was strip-sacked with over a minute remaining in Week 5, leading to another field goal in the Raven’ 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh.

Of the Ravens’ remaining opponents, only the Steelers rank in the top 10 in strip-sacks (five), according to TruMedia. But poor ball security and a leaky offensive line could give everyone a chance.

Odell Beckham Jr., #3 of the Baltimore Ravens, celebrates a first down reception against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second quarter in the game at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 26, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Wide receiver firepower

The Ravens have invested heavily at wide receiver. Now more than ever, they need those investments to pay off.

With tight end Mark Andrews sidelined indefinitely and Jackson facing more heat in the pocket, the pressure is on for the Ravens’ wide receivers to deliver. According to ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics, which quantify a player’s route-running efficiency, catching ability and production after the catch, the team has two top-20 wideouts in Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 9) and rookie Zay Flowers (No. 17). Rashod Bateman, another former first-round pick, is No. 52 overall.

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But only Flowers (team-high 613 yards) has more than 450 receiving yards this season. If defenses commit to stopping the Ravens’ run game down the stretch, Jackson should have opportunities downfield. And after almost three months of game action in offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s system, most of the Ravens’ passing-game kinks should be worked out, too.

Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss (21) collects a TD catch and run over Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (6) during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Ravens lost the game 22-19 on OT. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Leaky run defense

After a worrisome two-game stretch for the Ravens’ run defense in mid-November, Harbaugh was asked about the unit’s performance. He said he wasn’t too worried. The Ravens showed why in Week 12, holding Los Angeles Chargers running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley to 40 yards on 13 carries (3.1 per attempt).

The degree of difficulty is about to ratchet up, though. The Chargers’ rushing offense ranks 25th in DVOA. The Rams, 49ers, Dolphins and Steelers all rank in the top nine. The Rams and Pittsburgh operate mostly out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three wide receivers); the Ravens rank just 18th in success rate since Week 8 against runs out of 11 personnel, according to TruMedia. San Francisco and Miami, meanwhile, lean on 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end and two wide receivers); the Ravens rank just 26th in success rate since Week 8 against runs out of the similarly sized but more commonly used 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers).

Strangely, the Ravens have fared well at the point of attack, ranking sixth in average yards before contact per carry since Week 8. Second-level support has been an issue. Over the Ravens’ first seven games, inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen tackled ball carriers at an average depth of 1.4 yards and 1.6 yards per carry, respectively, according to Sports Info Solutions. Over the past five games, those averages have more than doubled, to 3.0 and 3.6 yards per carry, respectively.

Baltimore Ravens guard John Simpson (76) sits on the bench after the Ravens’ 33-31 loss to the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Fourth-quarter fades

Excluding defensive and special teams touchdowns, the Ravens have allowed 174 points this season. Nearly half (83) have been scored in the fourth quarter or overtime.

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The differences between the early-game Ravens and the late-game Ravens are as stark as they are confounding. Over the first three quarters of games, when the scoring margin is between two touchdowns, the Ravens’ defense easily leads the NFL in expected points added per play, according to TruMedia. Over the fourth quarter and overtime, in those same circumstances, they rank 19th.

The Ravens stiffened up against the Chargers, allowing one touchdown and getting three stops in the fourth quarter, but more tests are on the way. The Rams, 49ers, Dolphins and Steelers all rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency in those clutch situations. And in the playoffs, if the Ravens meet Kansas City, there’s maybe no more reliable late-game performer than Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring. 

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