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Growing pains were expected for the Ravens after losing a collection of starters from last season’s Super Bowl XLVII championship team, but a 3-4 start has left John Harbaugh’s team in “a state of emergency” in the words of linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Below the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time in the Harbaugh era, the Ravens know they must improve in a number of areas to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season. However, the challenge will be finding the proper in-house solutions for a roster flawed at spots on each side of the ball.
Harbaugh and players alike have promised improvements while expressing confidence that they know what they need to do to turn around their season, but the proof will be in the results as Baltimore plays six of its remaining nine games against teams with winning records entering Week 8. Appearing to be in relatively decent shape from an injury standpoint, the Ravens hope to get standout tight end Dennis Pitta back next month, but the challenge will be remaining viable in the playoff race for Pitta’s return to have a chance to make a real impact.
While the Ravens regroup at the bye before returning to Owings Mills to continue preparations for the Cleveland Browns on Monday, it’s time to hand out first-half grades.
You can listen to The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction hand out grades at the bye week HERE.
Comments: A simple look at Joe Flacco’s statistics suggests the sixth-year quarterback is having a poor season, but even his harshest critics must acknowledge how much a poor offensive line, a lack of a running game, and few trusted receiving targets have hindered his productivity. Aside from a poor game in Buffalo in which Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions, the Super Bowl MVP has played well considering how much is working against him this season. It’s fair to say Flacco has not been great and he hasn’t been able to noticeably elevate the level of play of his receivers and tight ends, but he’s the least of the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball.
RUNNING BACKS: C-
Comments: It’s been extremely difficult to assess the play of the running backs with the horrific performance of the offensive line, but both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have appeared hesitant and need to show better vision in hitting running lanes — no matter how small they might be at this point. Both backs have been banged up physically, but you simply can’t give them a pass when the running game is averaging 2.8 yards per carry and neither has made an impact as a receiver out of the backfield. Fullback Vonta Leach has probably played the best of the three, but his strong ability as a blocker hasn’t paid off in terms of marked improvements in running the football.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C+
Comments: If you were grading based solely on low expectations entering the season, the wide receivers — thought to be the offense’s biggest question mark — could even qualify as a pleasant surprise in how they’ve performed. Torrey Smith has blossomed with 629 receiving yards to lead the NFL entering Week 8 despite consistently dealing with bracketed coverage and heavy attention. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown and the previously-cut Tandon Doss have emerged as contributors in the absence of Jacoby Jones, who missed four games with a knee injury. Make no mistake, this is a below-average unit if you take away the talented and speedy Smith, but the production has been respectable based on the overall talent level, which was flawed from the start.
TIGHT ENDS: D+
Comments: Expectations for the tight end position went out the window after Pitta suffered a dislocated hip that required surgery on July 27, but Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark haven’t provided the consistency needed to throw the ball over the middle of the field. Dickson has been a huge disappointment (seven catches for 93 yards) after there was some hope that he could at least approach his 2011 production (54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns), but even Harbaugh acknowledged he’s not the same player that he was then. Clark has been more productive of late, but Flacco has had to target him 39 times to produce 23 receptions for 265 yards and the 34-year-old struggles to gain any consistent separation.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
Comments: Whether focusing on run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes, the play of second-year center Gino Gradkowski, or the performance of anyone else, it’s staggering to think how awful this group has been after there were expectations of it being one of the Ravens’ biggest strengths going into the season. The Ravens rank last in the NFL in yards per carry while the pass protection has been inconsistent at best as general manager Ozzie Newsome acquired former first-round pick Eugene Monroe from the Jaguars and jettisoned veteran Bryant McKinnie. Castillo and Gradkowski have been the biggest targets for blame, but even Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda hasn’t played close to his normal standards. Yanda and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both dealt with health concerns, but no one can be absolved over how poorly this unit has played all season.