The Ravens are not injury-free, but they are pretty healthy. They’re not alone atop the AFC, but they are tied for first. They’re not guaranteed a playoff berth, but they are in good shape. They’re not perfect, but who is?

“I love our guys,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday, just two days after a quiet trade deadline, a rarity in Baltimore. “We have everything we need, and our guys had a great practice today. We’re looking forward to Sunday. That’s really what we’re thinking about.”

Expectations are high for the 6-2 Ravens. Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium against the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (5-2) should help clarify just how high they need to be. Here’s what to watch in their Week 9 matchup.

1. If Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had his way with NFL bookkeeping, his 2023 stat line would look a lot more flattering. His catch total might jump from 14 to 20. His receiving yardage might jump from 162 to 250, at least. But defensive holding and pass interference penalties don’t count for the receiver who draws them, only the offense he plays in.

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“I wish the numbers went into the stats, but they don’t,” Beckham said Thursday. “Good for us, we keep it moving, keep the chains going and get a new set of downs and go from there.”

In the Ravens’ 31-24 win Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals, Beckham was held without a catch for only the second time in his career, and for the first time since October 2020. He contributed in other ways, drawing three penalties, including two pass interference calls that pushed the Ravens to the Cardinals’ 8- and 1-yard lines. But quarterback Lamar Jackson went 0-for-4 when targeting Beckham, the last of which ended in a jarring collision that sent the three-time Pro Bowl selection to the locker room briefly with a chest contusion.

Injuries have been a nagging concern for Beckham, who missed all of last year while recovering from a torn ACL and has been bothered this season by minor ankle and shoulder injuries.

“Early in the season, it was tough with what I had going on,” he said. “You just kind of have to push through and find ways for us all to work together. You need a day here, you need a day there; that’s what it is. We’re here to play on Sundays.”

In training camp, Beckham looked more than worthy of the Ravens’ one-year, $15 million investment. He was the team’s most consistent wide receiver, winning on short, intermediate and deep routes. But he’s caught just 14 of 26 targets, none for a touchdown, and he’s averaging 1.3 yards per route run, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, which would tie his 2021 mark as his lowest since at least 2016.

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Two years ago, Beckham took off in the postseason, helping the Los Angeles Rams win a Super Bowl. This year, he’s embracing what he called his early-season “trial and error” — new quarterback, new offensive coordinator, new expectations.

“Obviously, not where I want to be, but when I signed here, I said I want to come here and win a Super Bowl,” Beckham said. “And we’re 6-2 and on the way to that. Got to keep going. Long season.”

2. On Wednesday, Jackson was asked for similarities between the Arizona defense he’d just faced and the Seattle defense he was preparing for. They were two different schemes, he said. For one, the Cardinals dropped eight players into coverage.

“We weren’t looking forward to that,” Jackson said, “but they did a good job of that.”

Whether Jackson meant the Ravens were unprepared or just unhappy to see the passive coverage is unclear. But the strategy seemed to make a difference. According to NGS, Arizona rushed Jackson with three or fewer defenders on seven drop-backs Sunday, four times more than he’d faced a “drop eight” defense in any game this season. Jackson went just 2-for-5 for 15 yards, was sacked once and scrambled once. His average time to throw was a surprisingly fast 2.52 seconds.

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The Ravens shouldn’t have been too surprised; Arizona’s rate of dropping eight players into coverage was above the league average entering Week 8, according to TruMedia. Seattle’s rate, meanwhile, is below average. But, in a copycat league, the Seahawks could follow the Cardinals’ lead and crank up their usage until the Ravens show they’ve solved it.

“I think anytime that you’re able to see something and still come out of it with a win, still have some things that you felt like you did well and a lot of things that you certainly can continue to build on,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday, he would be happy.

3. The Seahawks’ run defense didn’t need Leonard Williams, not really. Even before their front office sent second- and fifth-round picks Monday to the New York Giants for the accomplished defensive lineman, Seattle ranked fifth in the NFL in expected points added and first in success rate when defending designed runs, according to TruMedia.

But Williams’ arrival couldn’t have been better timed. The Ravens have the league’s second-most efficient rushing offense, according to FTN’s DVOA rankings, and have rushed for at least 100 yards in 24 consecutive games. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are coming off a forgettable performance Sunday, when they allowed a season-high 155 yards (3.9 per carry) to the Cleveland Browns.

“Very excited,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt told local reporters Thursday. “You add another big-time playmaker to the group. It obviously adds to your depth, so you can continue to rotate and keep guys fresh. But, obviously, an outstanding football player.”

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The last time the Ravens played Seattle, they had to grind their way to a win. With Jackson completing only nine of his 20 passes for 143 yards in a 30-16 road win four years ago, the offense leaned on its rushing attack, which rolled for 134 second-half yards.

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“You can’t control the game if you can’t run the football,” Monken said. “You can’t control the game; your play-action game is not up to speed, [nor] your short yardage or goal-line [situations]. We’ve been good in the red zone because we’ve been able to run it. That’s a fact. When we’ve been able to run it well, we’ve scored running the football, and that adds to a lot of areas: short yardage, converting third downs, [when] you get into four-minute [offenses], goal line, red zone. Those are all things that lead into situational football that helps you win, and it gives your defense a blow.”

4. The best advertisement for Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith’s record-breaking five-year, $100 million contract extension might be standing on the other sideline Sunday.

In Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks have an exemplar of reliable excellence. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s graded out as a top-six off-ball linebacker in the NFL in all but two of the seven years since his age-26 season — the season Smith is playing right now.

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) knocks heads with tight end Zach Ertz of the Arizona Cardinals. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Smith and Wagner, 33, are fourth and fifth in the NFL in tackles, respectively, and rank as PFF’s Nos. 3 and 7 linebackers. Wagner, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, has the highest run defense grade at the position, while Smith has the fourth-best pass coverage grade.

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“I remember when I actually first came into the league, I remember I ended up connecting with him, asking him questions and things of that nature,” Smith said Wednesday. “So I always had a great deal of respect for Bobby, a guy that’s been doing it for a long time – Pro Bowls, All-Pro, you name it. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he plays the position and is still playing it. I don’t know what year this is for him, but he’s been doing it for a while.”

5. Jackson didn’t even want to hear the rest of the question Wednesday. Yes, he knew he hadn’t lost too many games to NFC teams as a starter. But he was sensitive about that kind of thing, maybe even a little superstitious. He shook his head and acted as if he were in distress before acknowledging the lopsided record.

“Hopefully, the score keeps going up,” Jackson said. “17-1? Hope it gets to 18-1 after this one. I’ll say that.”

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Jackson’s lone blemish came last year, when the Ravens folded late in a loss to the New York Giants. Monken said some teams have to adjust to playing a quarterback as mobile as Jackson, but he noted that the NFL’s embrace of dual-threat quarterbacks has made Jackson less of an outlier.

“I think, over the years, they’re not Lamar, but there are quarterbacks that, skill set-wise, might resemble that,” Monken said. “You play the Giants, and you’re playing Daniel Jones. There’s going to be some aspect of his game that they would have to prepare for with his ability with his legs.”

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

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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