Final grades for Ravens are in

A playoff year, but not good enough

January 29, 2010|By Mike Preston

In his postseason news conference, Ravens coach John Harbaugh intimated that he wanted all of his 53 players back for the 2010 NFL season.

Harbaugh, though, was just playing it safe. At this point in the offseason, it's not smart to say who will or won't return, but there will be changes.

There have to be. The Ravens finished the regular season at 9-7 and barely sneaked into the playoffs. Even though the Ravens played nearly a perfect game against the New England Patriots in the opening round of the playoffs, they got smacked around in the next round by the Indianapolis Colts in a game that was virtually over by halftime.

If the goal every year is to win the Super Bowl, then the Ravens have to make changes, especially for a team that constantly borders on being elite.

To help the Ravens move forward with personnel decisions, here's a look back with a final report card for the 2009 season:

QUARTERBACKS: Joe Flacco started strong but struggled in the second half of the season. Flacco was hampered by injuries late in the season, but he was also slow mentally in picking up blitzes and reading defenses. It will be interesting to see how Flacco plays once the Ravens get him some receivers. We all know that Flacco can take the Ravens deep into the playoffs, but can he take his game up another level to lead them to the Super Bowl? Grade: C

OFFENSIVE LINE: Fans seem to forget that this is a young group. If the linemen spend time together in the weight room during the offseason, this could be a dominating unit for the next couple of years. Rookie right tackle Michael Oher had a strong season, but left tackle Jared Gaither needs to get stronger mentally and physically. All three guards - Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda, Chris Chester - are athletic and run well, but sometimes they got out-muscled in short-yardage situations. Center Matt Birk had two lackluster games in the middle of the season but turned it up a notch late in the year and in the playoffs. Grade: C+

RUNNING BACKS: Starter Ray Rice is the Most Valuable Player of the team. He was the Ravens' offense. He had great balance and great bursts, and made a lot out of nothing at times. Backup Willis McGahee gave the Ravens one of the best tandems in the league, and he showed he still had some juice left in his legs. It was likely his last season in Baltimore. Le'Ron McClain made the successful switch from running back to fullback, and even though he doesn't blow anyone off the line of scrimmage, once he engages, few get off his blocks. Kudos to running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery. Grade: A

RECEIVERS: Whenever I think about Super Bowl and this group, I keep hearing those words echoed by San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary a couple of years ago. "Can't win with these players. Can't win." The Ravens might consider bringing back Derrick Mason, but only as a No. 2. The Ravens need to find one, maybe two big, speedy receivers. Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington are No. 3 receivers in good offenses. Demetrius Williams and the Ravens need a break from each other. Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE: Once they rebounded from injuries, tackles Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata were once again two of the best run-stoppers in the league. The Ravens also need to re-sign tackle Justin Bannan, a starter for most teams in the NFL and a character guy for the locker room. End Dwan Edwards stepped up big time in relief of veteran Trevor Pryce, who probably played his last game here. It was a disappointing season for end Terrell Suggs, but the good news is that he will remain in Baltimore for the offseason, which can only help a player who has enormous potential. The Ravens need to find an athletic tackle who can play against the run and rush the passer. Grade: B

LINEBACKERS: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson played at a Pro Bowl level, but like all the Ravens' linebackers, he needs to improve in pass coverage. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis had another good season but has become a liability during passing situations. The Ravens might have found a gem in rookie Dannell Ellerbe. Overall, the Ravens have to be happy with the depth at this group, especially with special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo returning from a leg injury. Backup inside linebacker Tavares Gooden has to get bigger, stronger and tougher during the offseason. He already has the wheels. Grade: B

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