The Ravens are now 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the AFC North division. After starting the season at 3-0, they’ve looked very, very bad in losing 4 of their last 5 games against some pretty tough, but beatable, opponents. Here’s how I see them at mid-season;
Joe Flacco – B …started the season looking like a Pro-Bowl candidate but has thrown some ill-timed interceptions in the red zone. After that hot start, he’s had only 4 or 5 TD passes since the team began 3-0.
Ray Rice – A .. He’s turning into a major weapon on offense both running and catching the ball, but they may be over-using him. All of a sudden he reminds me of how the old Colts used Lydell Mitchell (leading team in rushing and receiving) and that is NOT a good thing to have that type player other teams can game-plan and key on from week to week. Yes, he has been the “hot hand” lately, but playing the hot hand exclusively also cools down the other 2 running backs in the rotation and limits what they can do to compliment Rice.
LeRon McClain – C- ..From a Pro-Bowler to part time player with a limited role. Hasn’t been needed to wear down defenses lately because the Ravens have been coming from behind 3 of the last 5 weeks
Willis McGahee – M .. M is for missing… He led the NFL in TDs after 3 weeks but has vanished from the offensive scheme with the emergence of Ray Rice as the team’s #1 back. Something has to be going on behind the scenes that we don’t know or hear about. This guy is too valuable, especially in short yardage and goal line situations to be limited to maybe 9 snaps over the last 3 games.
Offensive line – B .. The Bengals defense pushed them around in both games and Joe Flacco wasn’t able to make plays. With time to jell, they’ll improve as the season goes on. Having Gaither out for 3 weeks didn’t help, although Oher did a good job at LT and Marshall Yanda performed admirably at the RT spot.
Derrick Mason – A- .. Has to be the most underrated wide receiver in the league. Not putting up huge numbers but still gets the job done when his number is called.
Todd Heap – B+ .. It seems like he has been under-utilized this season. He hasn’t been called upon to help the tackles in blocking schemes as much as he has over the last few years. He has made some big catches on 3rd downs and still plays as hard as ever, but he doesn’t seem to be as sure-handed as he was in the past. Getting blasted over the middle does that to players from time to time.
Mark Clayton – B .. Hasn’t stepped up as much as people had hoped. Another player who didn’t step on the field in the pre-season due to injury. The drop in New England is still being held over his head. He has made some circus catches since and caught a few TD passes. Luckily he hasn’t been on injury report either, which is a plus.
Kelley Washington – A .. When they throw to him, he catches the ball. There was a stat mentioned last week that said something like 18 of his 24 catches have been for 1st downs. If that is the case, he definitely needs to be more involved in the offense. He’s done nothing to justify his diminished role.
Demetrius Williams and L.J.Smith – MIA .. Both these guys were hurt most of training camp and during the season. I’ve seen Smith in maybe 2 games. Ozzie took a risk signing this guy and it turned out to be a bad move. Williams couldn’t shake the injury bug which has hurt his development as a receiver. He will probably not be re-signed after his contract expires.
Ray Lewis - B- .. His crowning moment in 2009 was stopping Darren Sproles on 4th down in San Diego, but he hasn’t done anything spectacular since. For having the best middle linebacker in the game, why are the Ravens so weak over the middle of the field? He’s still trying to play at a high level but something isn’t quite right out on the field. He does like to beat his chest after a tackle with the team down by 17 in the 3rd quarter. I think he misses Bart Scott playing alongside him. Things aren’t going to be the same and Ravens’ fans better prepare themselves for life without Ray Lewis after the next 2 seasons.
Terrell Suggs – D .. Didn’t the Ravens pay 68 million dollars to keep him? He was franchised, out of shape, injured, and then signed to the big contract. He sure likes talking smack and doing his radio show but Suggs hasn’t done squatt on the field for the money he’s been given. I was one of the few people who wanted the Ravens to let Suggs go and keep Bart Scott, Matt Stover and Jim Leonard. Those 3 guys weren’t going to steal nearly as much salary cap money as Suggs has this season.
Haloti Ngata – B .. He doesn’t look like the same player we saw last season. Something isn’t quite right there, either. If he is the least bit banged up, sit him out against the Browns next week and get him healthy for the stretch run when every game will definitely count.
Kelly Gregg – C ..Haven’t seen him do much of anything this season but get up off his back. He is not the same player we’ve seen in the past either.
Trevor Pryce – C .. An aging star the Ravens haven’t gotten much production from at all this season. This is probably his last season.
Jarrett Johnson – A- .. He is quietly having a decent season. Not a high priced superstar but is playing better than the other one on the other side of the field.
Dawan Landry – D .. His tackling skills are not there. His coverage skills are not there. The only time he is there is after a receiver catches a TD pass in front of him.
Domonique Foxworth – D .. The Ravens looked like the Orioles and grossly overpaid a guy because they needed someone to fill a position. Foxworthless, as some have called him, has difficulty in both coverage and tackling. Wait, isn’t that what a CB is supposed to do?
Ed Reed – B .. Sometimes we see flashes of the most explosive defensive player in the game. Other times we see boneheaded mistakes, like picking up a bouncing ball only to fumble it, or trying that hand-off during a return. His neck and shoulder issues come to the forefront when approaching a runner head to head. His best days are well behind him.
Fabian Washington – C- .. He gets hurt easily it seems. He is over-matched at times. This is not the same player we saw last season. Perhaps he is just a role player or nickel back.
Frank Walker – D .. He’s been inactive the last 2 weeks but he’s gotten nailed for some crucial pass interference penalties when he was playing. The biggest was the first game against the Bengals, when his interference call came on 3rd and 15. Had he allowed the receiver to catch the ball it would have been 4th and 8 and things change. Definitely not going to be here next year.
Chris Carr – F .. Way under-sized at CB. He looks out of place, over-matched, and lost in coverage against taller receivers. He is supposed to be sure-handed was brought in to return kicks and punts, yet he’s last in the league in punt returns (he probably leads the NFL in fair catches) and his “sure hands” fumbled the opening kickoff in New England which put the ravens in an early hole. He is a liability at this point and another bad signing by Ozzie.
Steve Hauschka – F .. Should be WL for wide left. I defended him when he missed the game winner in Minnesota. Yesterday he missed a 38 yarder which would have pulled the Ravens within 17-10 and could have changed the momentum of the game. No more excuses and no more Hauschka. What are the Grammatica brothers doing?
Lardarius Webb – A- .. He reminds me of Jermaine Lewis when returning kicks. He has explosive speed when he gets on the edge. Why he isn’t returning punts baffles me. We haven’t seen enough of him in the secondary to judge how he’ll be as a full time player, but he does hit and knows how to tackle when he’s back there. Depending on the severity of the leg contusion that Fabian Washington sustained, we may be seeing more of Webb at the corner.
Sam Koch – B+ .. He is a forgotten hero when it comes to playing the field position game. Koch is very consistent in pinning the opposition inside the 20.
Team grade – C- .. The Ravens looked like a team on a mission when the season began, scoring 38, 31 and 34 points in their first 3 wins. But beating teams like KC and Cleveland, now both1-7, gave the fans a false sense of security at the outset when the Ravens were sitting atop the division at 3-0. Then things suddenly changed. The Chargers had exploited the defense in week 2 but came up short by trying to force the run instead of throwing the ball as they had in the first half. New England and Cincinnati (twice) both dominated the offensive and defensive lines the following weeks, and Minnesota scored when they needed to to hang on for a victory. John Harbaugh said a few weeks ago, after the 3rd loss in a row, “It all came down to 3 plays…” That has been the Ravens stumbling block all season long. Three of the 4 losses have been games in which the Ravens played poorly as a unit, but still had a chance to win the game late in the 4th quarter. The offense stalled in New England, the defense forgot to play the final 2 minutes against Cincinnati, and Hauschka’s shank are the difference between being 4-4 and 6-2. Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed though and teams must play an entire 60 minutes of football every week. Just ask the 49ersand the Giants, losers of 4 straight after starting out on top of their respective divisions, Green Bay couldn’t finish the game after having a 14 point lead and lost to Tampa yesterday, and the Bears get blown out allowing 48 and 41 points in their last 2 losses.
The offense averaged almost 30 points per game, which is the most we’ve seen in Baltimore since the Vinnie Testaverde Pro-Bowl season. of course Vinnie was throwing the ball all over the place because the defense was allowing a lot of points in those days. Those Vinnie teams were 4-12 and 6-10. Joe Flacco is still growing into his position along with his young offensive line and he is making some big plays. He has to improve on his passes in the red zone and avoid the costly interceptions we have seen this season. Cam Cameron HAS to find a way to get all three of his running backs the ball and shy away from having Ray Rice as the feature back. Rice is not built to take that type pounding game after game and although he is at the top of the league in total yards from scrimmage, he will not have a long career unless they give him some plays off.
The defense has been suspect all year long. They look very undisciplined at times. Lack of a bonifide pass rush, poor tackling, blown coverage assignments, and costly penalties have put the team in early deficits. Watching Minnesota and Cincinnati both score 14 quick points in the first quarter on long drives is not the type of Ravens football we’ve been accustomed to seeing around these parts for quite some time. The old “bend but don’t break” defense looks very bent and very broken at times.
The Ravens are 4-4 and have 8 games remaining. They need to right the ship in a hurry if they want to make a playoff run. I hope it doesn’t happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they went to Cleveland next Monday and laid a big egg on the field. An early blowout win against the Browns can give them a chance to rest many of the starters, since they are on a short week and staring down the barrel at the Colts high powered offense the following Sunday at home.
The Ravens wake up this morning to find themselves in a fight with 4 other teams for what will probably be the final wild-card berth. They are tied with the Jets and Jags at 4-4 and looking up at the Steelers, Texans and Chargers. Pittsburgh controls their own fate for either the division title or top wild card team depending what they do tonight in Denver and against the Bengals at home next week. Two straight Steelerlosses can change things in a hurry. With the Ravens playoff hopes still hanging on by a thread, they cannot afford to suffer more than 2 losses in their final 8 games. Based on the way their upcoming opponents have fared lately, they should be able to beat the Packers, Bears, Lions, Oakland, and Cleveland. The 2 biggest games in their season will be against the Colts and Steelers in back to back weeks at M&T Bank Stadium. A split would definitely help their playoff push, but a loss next week in Cleveland all but ends their season.
I don’t want to hear any more excuses from the Baltimore Ravens. Just play hard for 60 minutes until the clock reaches 0:00.