The Ravens have surprised all of us with a solid start to the 2008 season. Comfortably sitting at 5-3, the Ravens currently own the top AFC wildcard playoff spot and the AFC North title is still certainly within reach. They control their own destiny.
With 8 games to go, and the more difficult part of the schedule ahead of us, here’s my Ravens mid-season report card.
Quarterbacks – B
Objectively, Flacco hasn’t been THAT good this season. Remember, he’s still thrown 5 touchdowns versus 7 picks. But, he has shown flashes of brilliance and has improved from week to week. The fact that he led the offense to a comeback win on the road against a division rival after being down by 14…wow. We haven’t seen this kind of potential from the quarterback position since Bert Jones. He’s a rookie, and he’s going to have a few more bad games this season, especially considering the defenses we have to face in the next 8 weeks. But this kid is the real deal. Two or three years down the road, I can see him making the trip to Hawaii in February.
Wide Receivers – C-
Honestly, if it weren’t for Derrick Mason, this grade would be an F. Aside from last week, Mark Clayton has proven absolutely nothing to me, aside from being just as big of of first round bust as Kyle Boller. Similarly, Demitrius Williams has had only one big play this season (the big touchdown catch against Oakland, which was more of a blown coverage by the Raiders than good WR play). But where would we be without Derrick Mason? He’s the reliable possession receiver that every developing quarterback needs. He would be a GREAT #2 option next season. Think about this: Steve Smith and TJ Houshmandzadeh (among MANY other deep threats) will be available in free agency this off-season. This has to be a priority for Ozzie Newsome: give #5 a deep threat to compliment Derrick Mason.
Running Backs – A
The three-headed monster of Ray Rice, Le’Ron McClain, and Willis McGahee has been outstanding this season. Ray Rice has already proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. To me, he looks like a Brian Westbrook/Maurice Jones-Drew hybrid. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table in future years once he learns the nuances of the NFL. If McGahee didn’t come to training camp out of shape, and therefore wouldn’t be battling injuries, this grade would be an A+. Speaking of which…
Offensive Line – A+
Boy did they prove us wrong. Jared Gaither is a monster of a run blocker. Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown will make several consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl in future years, and they should get some consideration this season. Honestly, can you name another left guard in the AFC who has played better than Grubbs? At the center position, you could argue that Kevin Mawae of the Titans has had a better season than Brown, but you’d be hard pressed to find another center who has played better. This unit has played a key role in both Flacco’s recent success and the success of the running game.
Tight Ends – C+
Obviously, Todd Heap has had the worst season of his professional career as a pass-catching tight end. But, he has been playing well as a blocker. I would have graded this position higher if we would have seen what we expected to see: a tight end excelling in a Cam Cameron offense. We’re seeing more play calls that keep Heap and Wilcox at the line of scrimmage because Cameron wants to protect the rookie QB as much as possible, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. For what Heap and Wilcox have been asked to do, they’ve done a pretty good job, but I certainly expected more fireworks from the tight end position.
Defensive Line – A
Justin Bannan has filled in admirably for the injured Kelly Gregg. It seems like this defense has not missed a beat in Gregg’s absence, which would be an unthinkable thought in the previous two seasons, and Bannan is the reason why. Trevor Pryce, although he hasn’t produced the stats that we expected, has allowed Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott to make plays in the backfield because his presence demands a double team almost every time. Haloti Ngata has proved to be just as good as Albert Haynesworth, if not better. Again, he doesn’t rack up big statistical numbers, but he is the main reason why NOBODY runs on the Ravens. If he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl, I would be shocked.
Linebackers – A-
Ray Lewis is Ray Lewis. Bottom line, the best MLB in the game, even in his 13th year. Suggs would be getting defensive player of the year consideration if it weren’t for Joey Porter. Bart Scott plays a cognitive role in both stopping the run and disrupting opponents pass attacks by chasing QBs all over the field. Jarret Johnson has had an outstanding season, and has certainly played above our expectations. They can certainly stop the run, but they have shown weaknesses at times against the pass.
Secondary – C+
Injuries and in-house issues have ravaged the secondary. Ed Reed is literally playing with one arm and he’s probably one bad hit away from retirement. Samari Rolle should be back this week, which may boost their second half grade, and will certainly help control Andre Johnson next week. But both Frank Walker and Fabian Washington have been exposed a few times. You may not be able to run on the Ravens, but you can definitely pass on them. I have been really hard on Frank Walker, especially in the beginning of the season, but his play has improved. I’m not even going to address Chris McAlister because this situation has hit a nerve with me…he’s like Brett Favre…I’m sick of talking about him.
Special Teams – B-
At times, they look excellent. Other times (like when they missed 5 tackles on the Josh Cribbs TD return), they’ve looked awful. Sporadic play from special teams has kept other teams in games at times. Aside from the Cleveland game, Matt Stover has been missing field goals and he’s also lost a lot of leg strength in the kickoff aspect of his game. Stover missed an important field goal against Tennessee, a game where the Ravens lost by 3 points.
Coaching – A-
It’s amazing what this coaching staff has done with the Ravens. This team was supposed to win 5 games all season, and they’ve already matched last season’s win total halfway through the schedule. Cam Cameron and Rex Ryan have been awesome, and for the most part, so has John Harbaugh. The only reason why this isn’t an A grade is because of the McAlister situation. Harbaugh lied to us. McAlister isn’t one of the best 11 players on the defense? Really? C’mon dude…don’t urinate on my head and tell me it’s raining. Don’t insult my intelligence. I guess we’ll never know what REALLY happened between McAlister and Harbaugh, and I think that’s the way the Ravens want it. Aside from how they’ve handled the McAlister situation, the coaching staff has been nothing short of spectacular.
How would you grade the Ravens? Drop me a comment, and check back later this week for predictions on the Ravens @ Texans game.