Despite their four-game losing streak, the Ravens (3-4) return from their bye weekend very much in the AFC North race with the Steelers (4-3) and the Bengals (3-4-1).
With a week of rest and refocusing under their belts, it is time for the team to go to work.
As the Ravens prepare to host the Steelers on Sunday, here are five Ravens who will be under pressure during the second half the season:
1. QB Joe Flacco
It’s obvious that Flacco (five TD passes, six interceptions, 75.4 quarterback rating) must raise his game for the Ravens to win the division. Yes the offensive line needs to protect him better, and offensive coordinator Marty Morninweg must stay more committed to the running game.
But as Flacco himself says, it starts with him. As he goes, so goes the Ravens’ offense in November and December.
2. WR Breshad Perriman
To get open more often, Perriman (14 catches, 183 yards) will have to run better routes and improve his chemistry with Flacco. However, Perriman has the speed to compliment Mike Wallace as a legitimate deep threat.
More consistency from Perriman would have a positive ripple effect on the entire offense.
3. TE Dennis Pitta
This has been an excellent comeback season for Pitta (38 catches, 335 yards), after two major hip surgeries. However, Pitta has not scored a touchdown, and the Ravens have struggled in the red zone. Pitta and Flacco hooked up for 10 touchdowns in 2012, including three during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run.
If Pitta can re-establish himself as a red zone producer, it would take the offense to another level.
4. CB Jimmy Smith
Over the past month Smith has been superb, back to where he was before his Lisfranc injury in 2014. With two games against Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, two games against Bengals wide receiver A. J. Green, and one game against Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant remaining on the schedule, the Ravens are going to need Smith at his best.
“I think Jimmy is having one of the finest seasons of any corner in the league,” said secondary coach Leslie Frazier. “Jimmy is an underrated guy in a lot of ways. He can tackle. He can match up on top receivers. He is having an under-the-radar outstanding season, and hopefully he can stay healthy and it continues.”
5. OLB Za’Darius Smith
Sacks don’t tell the whole story for pass rushers, but Smith doesn’t have one, after getting 5 ½ as a rookie in 2015. With Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Terrell Suggs (biceps) dealing with injuries, the Ravens need young pass rushers like Smith to step up.