Midseason Review

November 07, 2003|By Jamison Hensley

Run offense (First in NFL)

Thumbs up: Jamal Lewis is a legitimate NFL Most Valuable Player candidate. The power back leads the NFL in rushing (1,045 yards) and accounts for 43 percent of the total offense. Unlike his previous two seasons, he has elevated his game to be a breakaway threat. Perennial All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden may be having his most dominating season, and fullback Alan Ricard is one of the most underrated players on the team.

Thumbs down: The red zone has become the dead zone for the league's top rushing attack. Over the past four games, the Ravens have averaged 2.6 yards a carry inside the 20-yard line. Only four times this season have the Ravens been able to run for a touchdown while in the red zone.

General manager Ozzie Newsome's comment: "No question it has [surpassed expectations]. People know what we are going to do, so it's a credit to what the offensive coaches have done scheme-wise and what the offensive line has done blocking-wise."

Pass offense (Last in NFL)

Thumbs up: Tight end Todd Heap creates the biggest mismatch on the field and tops the team with 29 catches for 398 yards. Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller has averaged one interception every 25 1/2 throws, a better ratio than Trent Dilfer (one every 20 1/2 throws) in the Super Bowl year. Pass protection has been sound all season, allowing just 15 sacks.

Thumbs down: Boller can be erratic on the shortest of throws because of poor mechanics. Receiver Travis Taylor has lacked the consistency of a No. 1 receiver. Free-agent additions Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson have combined for a disappointing 14 catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns.

Newsome's comment: "We knew there was going to be a learning curve with the quarterback, but did we think we would be better? I would say yes. Heading into the second half, that leads us to an area we know we can improve in."

Run defense (10th in NFL)

Thumbs up: The Ravens have allowed just one 100-yard rusher (San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson) and only half of their opponents have cracked 100 yards as a team. With 114 tackles, linebacker Ray Lewis is on pace to break his team-record 210 tackles. Besides Lewis, linebacker Ed Hartwell is stout at the point of attack.

Thumbs down: The Ravens surrender 3.6 yards a carry, ninth in the NFL. They have never finished below third in rushing average since 1998. Too many blockers are getting past the Ravens' front three to Lewis.

Newsome's comment: "The last two times we saw Ray Lewis play healthy against Denver and Cleveland, I don't know if anybody could play games better than those. Ray is playing well, but we all have those games in our mind. Can he get back to that level? Yes. And he may get back to that level this year."

Pass defense (Ninth in NFL)

Thumbs up: The Ravens have allowed 6.2 yards an attempt, sixth best in the league. Gary Baxter is one of the most versatile players in the NFL, shifting from free safety to cornerback interchangeably. Chris McAlister is now playing like a shutdown cornerback. Despite a few recent drops, strong safety Ed Reed is the secondary's top playmaker with his incredible instincts.

Thumbs down: McAlister's off-the-field problems have been the biggest distraction of the season. Teams have picked on cornerback Corey Fuller and have tested the veteran on deep routes.

Newsome's comment: "What we weren't able to do last year was put pressure on the passer. With the addition of [Terrell] Suggs, we're better at that without having to all-out blitz. We can get that with four people. Another part is we haven't given up as many explosive plays this year."

Special teams Thumbs up: The coverage teams are among the best in the league. Kicker Matt Stover has one of the most consistent legs in the game, converting 17 of 19 field goals (missing twice from 45 yards). Punter Dave Zastudil has placed 12 of 39 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Thumbs down: The punt and kickoff return teams rank in the bottom third of the league. The Ravens have tried to find a spark from Lamont Brightful, Chester Taylor, Dedric Ward and even Ed Reed. The one rare mistake by the coverage teams - a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Kansas City's Dante Hall - cost the Ravens a game.

Newsome's comment: "Hopefully, what we saw last Sunday will continue to be a positive for our return game. Just like our offensive passing game, our return game has room to improve. If we can improve in those areas, that's going to set us up for a good run in the second half."

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