Preston hands out his grades after one quarter of Ravens season

Mike Preston gives high marks on defense, challenges quarterback to improve

October 06, 2011|Mike Preston

After four games, the Ravens are in great position. Few expected them to have only lost one game with such dramatic changes at the offensive skilled positions during the offseason.

The defense has been dominant, and there are already comparisons being made to the Super Bowl winning group in 2000. Statistics, though, don't show how both of those defenses took away an opponent's desire to play against the Ravens.

In 2000, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was so ferocious that running backs such as Jerome Bettis, Corey Dillon and Eddie George quit against the Ravens. He took their hearts. In the first game against Pittsburgh this year, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was about to crush running back Rashard Mendenhall so hard that Mendenhall closed his eyes before impact. By the end of the third period, the Steelers offensive line had called it a night.

That's intimidation.

After the first half against New York Sunday night, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had already shown a beaten spirit and receiver Plaxico Burress had quit. It's one thing to lose, and another to get beaten into submission.

The difference in the Ravens defense, compared to a year ago, is that first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is much more aggressive than predecessor Greg Mattison. There have been a few surprises, like defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Cary Williams, but it's still basically the same personnel.

On the other side, the Ravens have struggled offensively, and two of their top players, quarterback Joe Flacco and right offensive tackle Michael Oher, need to become more consistent. And that also can be said about both the passing and running games.

But it appears the Ravens are going in the right direction. Heading into a big game next Sunday against Houston, the Ravens should have injured players Lee Evans (ankle), a receiver, left guard Ben Grubbs (toe) and rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle) back in the starting lineup. And with time, a revamped offensive line should get better.

But before we get too far ahead, we'll take a look back and grade the Ravens through the first four games.

Quarterback: Joe Flacco has been woefully inconsistent, not just from game to game, but quarter to quarter. He has made progress from a year ago, especially as far as movement in the pocket, but not enough to carry the offense. Flacco has a quarterback rating of 79.9 and a completion rate of 49.3 in the first four games. Grade: C.

Running back: Ray Rice is the engine that makes the offense run. He has been the team's most consistent weapon and can strike from anywhere on the field. Ricky Williams has been a good change-of-pace back, and appears to be getting more comfortable each game. Williams, though, has to cut out the fumbles. Fullback Vonta Leach has lived up to his reputation as the game's top blocker. Grade: B.

Receivers: Tight end Ed Dickson appears to be Flacco's favorite target after Rice, but Todd Heap would've hung onto some of the balls that Dickson has dropped. Receiver Anquan Boldin has solid numbers, but not the production usually associated with a No. 1 receiver. Lee Evans' impact has been negligible because of an ankle injury, and rookie Torrey Smith has to prove that he can be more than just a one game wonder. Grade: C.

Offensive line: Left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Andre Gurode are older, but they have stabilized the left side of a shaky offensive line. McKinnie, though, still needs to get in better shape. There are questions about center Matt Birk's injured left knee, and if he came make it through the season. There are also questions surrounding the injured toe of Grubbs, and Oher has struggled in pass blocking, especially with stunts. Grade: C+.

Defensive line: This might be the most improved position on the team. Tackle Terrence Cody is making people forget about Kelly Gregg, and fellow tackle Haloti Ngata has been one of the league's most dominating performers. Defensive end Cory Redding doesn't get a lot of publicity, but has performed well and become a pass rushing threat. The Ravens have also gotten contributions from McPhee and Arthur Jones. Grade: A.

Linebackers: The Ravens don't use Ray Lewis in pass coverage as much anymore, and that's a good thing because he has always been a good pass rusher. Lewis is good at timing blitzes. Terrell Suggs has been unstoppable, and Jarret Johnson is tough to run against on the other side. Jameel McClain is serviceable but has to improve on his tackling in the open field. He might be overtaken by Dannell Ellerbe. Grade: A.

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