Grading the Ravens at the (almost) midseason point

October 25, 2012 | Luke Jones

Grade: D
Comments: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has been the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable seven games for this unit. Veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu has faded after a strong training camp that earned him the starting nose tackle job while third-year lineman Terrence Cody hasn’t been a factor as a reserve and is looking more like a disappointment as a former second-round pick. The Ravens were counting on the combination of Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones to fill the void left behind by veteran Cory Redding, but neither has made much of an impact against the run or pass. McPhee’s lack of progression has been particularly disappointing after he registered six sacks as a situational pass-rusher last season, but a sore knee has hindered his explosiveness through the first half of the season. Rookie DeAngelo Tyson and former practice squad member Bryan Hall received their first action of the season in Houston, and the two could find more opportunities as defensive coordinator Dean Pees searches for answers up front. This group hasn’t pressured the quarterback or stopped the run as the Ravens rank 26th in total defense.

Grade: D+
Comments: The return of Suggs will improve this unit substantially, but the Ravens lack any other high-impact players at the position. After signing a three-year contract to remain in Baltimore, Jameel McClain has struggled to make plays and faces plenty of pressure filling in for Lewis as the the Mike linebacker. Paul Kruger has not proven himself able to handle an every-down role while rookie Courtney Upshaw has shown steady improvement after a slow start in the preseason. Albert McClellan might be moved inside to build depth after the loss of Lewis while Dannell Ellerbe now holds a starting position and is the Ravens’ most capable linebacker in pass coverage, an area in which this group has been poor. The linebackers have struggled to shed blocks and have whiffed on far too many tackles this season, leading to three straight games in which they allowed 180 or more rushing yards heading into the bye week. This unit obviously missed the presence of Suggs and continues to miss the steady run-stopping ability of veteran Jarret Johnson, who departed in free agency in the offseason. And while Lewis was struggling on the field, his cerebral presence and experience will be sorely missed in the huddle and prior to the snap.

Grade: C-
Comments: The ACL injury to Webb leaves this group without its best cover corner, and Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith have struggled to find the ball in coverage and often play with too much cushion against opposing receivers. Free safety Ed Reed has been an inconsistent tackler but does lead the defense with seven pass breakups. Strong safety Bernard Pollard has struggled in pass coverage and has sometimes played out of control going for big hits in the defensive backfield. The secondary, particularly Williams and Smith, has received plenty of criticism, but the lack of a pass rush from the front seven has made life even more difficult for the cornerback duo. Webb’s injury will now force special-teams standout Corey Graham to play the nickel spot. The return of Suggs will help the pass rush, but Williams and Smith must be better in coverage on the outside for this group to show any substantial improvement as the Ravens currently rank 23rd in pass defense.

Grade: A
Comments: After a poor 2011 season, the special teams have been outstanding as kick and punt coverage has been much better. Jones set a franchise record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and provides more explosion than they enjoyed a season ago. However, rookie kicker Justin Tucker has been the star of the special teams, making 14 of 15 field goal tries and converting all four attempts from 50 or more yards, making the struggles of former kicker Billy Cundiff a distant memory. Punter Sam Koch is averaging 47.2 yards per punt and has pinned 11 inside the 20. The Ravens invested money in re-signing Brendon Ayanbadejo as well as inking Graham and Sean Considine to add veteran experience to the special teams units, but younger players such as Chykie Brown have also emerged to make drastic improvement.

Grade: C
Comments: Even with the Ravens’ struggles on both sides of the ball, it should be remembered they’re 5-2 and have gotten the job done at critical points in games to pull out several close victories. Cameron has been understandably lambasted for the offensive struggles on the road, but the Ravens have also shown the ability to run an excellent no-huddle attack at home, making the disconnect even more frustrating. Pees has dealt with too many key losses in personnel, but he must figure out a way to maximize the talent he does have, which will be easier with a healthy Suggs now in the fold. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg deserves plenty of credit after he came under fire for poor special teams play last season, and he and Harbaugh made the right decision in choosing the rookie Tucker to handle kicking duties. The head coach vowed improvement and changes following the bye week, and these final nine games will be another opportunity for Harbaugh to prove he belongs among the coaching elite in the NFL after enduring significant injuries and personnel losses this season.