Grading the Ravens

Midseason Report

November 08, 2001|By Mike Preston

QUARTERBACKS -- GRADE C

Starter Elvis Grbac has been inconsistent from quarter to quarter. Part of the inconsistency comes from trying to make big plays in an unproductive offense. Backup Randall Cunningham has won the past two games filling in for the injured Grbac, but the offense appears even more limited when he is in the game. Grbac has a better touch on passes, but Cunningham can thread it in tight areas. Grbac has some agility, but Cunningham runs with a purpose. Both have taken a beating this year. It really doesn't matter who starts until the offensive line learns how to protect them.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- GRADE D+

Injuries can be an excuse for the unit's slow start, but the bottom line is the group hasn't improved that much from the first game. The Ravens usually only run left behind tackle Jonathan Ogden and guard Edwin Mulitalo. Ogden has played well, but not on the level of a year ago. Mulitalo has been solid, but is too stiff and injury-prone. Mike Flynn is getting better at center but still allows too much penetration on running plays. As for the right side, it's been awful. The Ravens have tried just about everyone over there, including Bennie Anderson, Kipp Vickers, Erik Williams and Sammy Williams. No tandem has gotten the job done. The Ravens have had trouble handling blitzes.

RUNNING BACKS -- GRADE D+

As expected, the group has struggled. The Ravens don't have a runner who is a threat on the outside, which is why the Browns lined up their defensive tackles wide to keep the running game closer to the middle of the field. Starting halfback Terry Allen was beginning to come on before an ankle sprain sidelined him the past two games. The Ravens will be lucky to get eight games out of the veteran this season. Second-year player Jason Brookins runs hard and is physical, but he lacks outside speed. Coach Brian Billick seems reluctant to play him. Instead, Billick has used Obafemi Ayanbadejo more in the regular offense, but Brookins brings more to the table. Ayanbadejo hasn't pass blocked well in the past two games, and for a 235-pound player, doesn't break tackles. He needs to be more of a hammer instead of the nail. Fullback Sam Gash, one of the best lead blockers in the league, is totally wasted in this offense because the Ravens can't run.

RECEIVERS -- GRADE B

Qadry Ismail is having his best season as a Raven. He has been a force all over the field, but the team has gone away from him as a long-ball threat. Get him the ball. Second-year player Travis Taylor was off to a strong start, but has disappeared from the offense in the past two games. That's a shame because he runs well after the catch. Tight end Shannon Sharpe has been Mr. Clutch on third-down situations, and the quarterbacks need to look for him more in the middle of the field. Rookie Todd Heap started strong but has missed extensive time because of a high ankle sprain. Note to Heap: There can only be one tight end on the roster who doesn't block and his initials are SS. Step it up, fella. Overall, a productive group.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- GRADE C+

Right end Michael McCrary and tackle Sam Adams have turned in strong performances. McCrary, despite a lot of pain because of knee injuries, has been the Ravens' as well as one of the AFC's top pass rushers. McCrary isn't a great athlete, but he has a huge heart. Critics thought there would be a severe drop-off in the performance of Adams, but he still has a lethal first step and is a complete player. Because teams are spreading the Ravens out with four- and five-receiver sets, fellow defensive tackle Tony Siragusa is playing less than in previous seasons. He is still one of the best run stoppers in the league, and it would be nice to see him make plays even if his time is limited. Left end Rob Burnett has struggled with a hand injury but wasn't playing particularly well before getting hurt. The Ravens need him to become more consistent if the defense is to become dominant like last season.

LINEBACKERS -- GRADE B

During the past two games, middle linebacker Ray Lewis has taken that Superman logo off his chest and decided that he can't make every play. Instead, he is letting the game come back to him, playing within the scheme. His hit on running back Jerome Bettis on Sunday was highlight-material stuff. But Lewis is getting blocked more this season than ever. He still has a tendency to overrun plays. Strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware has been solid and is a pass rushing force, but he still isn't the imposing player the team thought he would be when it drafted him in the first round in 1997. Overall, though, there can be no argument that he has made a significant contribution. Weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper has been steady. He gives a solid effort every week taking on blocks so that Lewis can blow up plays.

SECONDARY -- GRADE C-

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