With the Ravens making use of their bye week to heal nagging injuries and lick their wounds after the worst loss of the John Harbaugh era in Week 7, it’s time to hand out midseason marks for a team currently sitting in first place in the AFC North at 5-2.
Even with numerous question marks on both sides of the ball, the Ravens find themselves in excellent shape in what’s amounted to convoluted mediocrity in the AFC in which only three teams own winning records through Week 7. Opinions vary on what lies ahead for Baltimore — especially with three of its next four games on the road — but coach John Harbaugh vowed that changes and adjustments would be made to address a woeful defense and an offense that’s excelled at home but can’t get out of its own way on the road.
Since the start of the regular season on Sept. 10, the Ravens have sustained a long-term injury to linebacker Ray Lewis and a season-ending knee injury to top cornerback Lardarius Webb, but the return of 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs should provide a lift for a defense desperate to make improvements.
Here are the first-half grades:
Comments: Holding a career 92.2 quarterback rating at home and a 79.8 mark on the road, Joe Flacco has always been “Jekyll and Hyde” during his five-year career but never has the trend been more extreme than this season. In four home games, Flacco has looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL by completing 67.1 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and two interceptions. In contrast, the 27-year-old has been horrendous on the road by completing only 50 percent of his throws for two touchdowns and four interceptions in three games. Flacco has looked severely rattled and hasn’t been able to snap out of it when his offensive line has struggled in pass protection on the road. Even if he needs to carry a piece of the M&T Bank Stadium turf in his pocket or wear his purple home jersey underneath his road one, Flacco must find a way to improve his play on the road if the Ravens want to be a serious Super Bowl contender — and if he wants to earn the lucrative contract he desires.
Comments: Pro Bowl back Ray Rice reminds you of the smartest kid in the class who needs to be challenged a bit more. In comparison to the first seven games of 2011, Rice has received nine fewer carries and caught four fewer passes as the Ravens have shifted to a no-huddle offense with a heavier emphasis on the passing game. Given the changing nature of the league toward the passing game, I won’t fault the Ravens too much, but it’s clear offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has moved away from Rice more than he should have at certain points — especially on the road. Rice is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, which is his best mark since 2009. Rookie Bernard Pierce has been a capable backup when given opportunities and fullback Vonta Leach has continued to play at a Pro Bowl level despite seeing less time on the field this season.
WIDE RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
Comments: Starting wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have excelled at times, but both have experienced difficulty in gaining separation against press coverage, causing them to disappear for significant portions of games against certain defenses. Smith has become a more polished receiver and continues to be a threat to take one the distance every time Flacco delivers the ball to him. Newcomer Jacoby Jones has been a solid addition as the No. 3 receiver and should probably be a little more involved in creative ways to utilize his speed. Tight end Dennis Pitta has become Flacco’s favorite target, but Ed Dickson is a forgotten man as the second tight end and has displayed inconsistent hands when passes do come his way. Second-year receiver Tandon Doss caught the first touchdown of his career in Week 7 and could see more opportunities in the second half of the season.
Comments: Much like Flacco, the offensive line has been wildly inconsistent through the first seven weeks of the season. In three wins over Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas, the offensive line allowed a total of four sacks. However, the group allowed a combined 14 sacks in a home win over Cleveland and three road games. The Ravens made an effort to go younger with Kelechi Osemele and Ramon Harewood beginning the season as starters, but Harewood has since been replaced and Osemele has struggled as a pass blocker despite showing strong skills as a run blocker. Many continue to doubt Michael Oher’s ability to block speed rushers as a left tackle and veteran Bryant McKinnie could find himself back in the starting lineup at some point following the bye. Harbaugh suggested changes could be coming following the embarrassing loss at Houston. Right guard Marshal Yanda has played at a high level and remains the team’s best offensive lineman. Despite issues with inconsistency in pass blocking, this group has done well opening holes for Rice in the running game.