Report card shows bright spots, room to improve
But Oakland had a good quarterback in Derek Carr and two top wide receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. And the Ravens lost, 28-27.
In the next 12 games, the Ravens get Pro Bowl quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger twice each, and face Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning and Tom Brady, as well as top rookies Dak Prescott (if Tony Romo isn’t back from injury by Week 11) and Carson Wentz.
The list of top wide receivers the Ravens will face includes superstars Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. But before we go too far into the future, let’s look back and give out grades for the first quarter of the season. Quarterback: After missing the last six games of 2015 to a major knee injury, Joe Flacco has returned to form, which isn’t always a pretty form to watch. Flacco can take over a game and light up a defense, but few can predict in which half that will happen. He has completed 108 of 170 passes for 1,072 yards, but has as many interceptions as touchdown passes (four). He’ll get better after spending more time with his receivers, and Flacco still delivers in crunch time. Grade: C+ Running backs: The Ravens are expected to use Terrance West as the starter consistently now. What took so long? Former starter Justin Forsett began struggling in the second preseason game, but the Ravens still hung with him even though he lacked acceleration and the ability to make defenders miss. Buck Allen can serve as the backup until rookie Kenneth Dixon is up to par, but Allen is a liability in pass protection. West, though, can wear a defense down because of his physical style. Overall, the Ravens don’t have a game breaker among the bunch. As far as talent and style, they’re all pretty much from the same mold. Grade: C Offensive line: Pass protection was pretty good until last week, when the Raiders smacked Flacco around. That was largely because left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis were out with injuries. For two rookies on the same side of the line, that tandem has been solid. The Ravens can’t get a running game going because they don’t get movement at the line of scrimmage. Center Jeremy Zuttah had struggled until last week, and maybe his shoulder injury is starting to heal. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has played well, but not as well as in previous years. Right tackle Rick Wagner has been consistent but looked slow against Oakland. The Ravens have little depth after the starting five. If injuries keep mounting, the offense will continue to struggle. Grade: C Receivers: Steve Smith Sr. (24 catches, 281 yards, one touchdown) is starting to regain Linebacker Zachary Orr, right, leads the Ravens in tackles with 32. Michael Pierce and the Ravens defense are allowing just 87 rushing yards a game. his top form after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He is getting separation from cornerbacks again — something he didn’t do in the first three games. Newcomer Mike Wallace (14 catches, 210 yards, three touchdowns) has shown he can be more than just a vertical threat, and he has a good all-around game. Breshad Perriman has potential, but he shied away from contact against the Raiders. Both Perriman and rookie Chris Moore had reputations out of college as players who drop easy passes, and so far they have lived up to those reputations. Tight end Dennis Pitta (21 catches, 200 yards) was Flacco’s go-to weapon in the first two games, but teams are going to get more physical with him at the line of scrimmage. Grade: C Defensive line: This group has been the strongest of any unit. The Ravens are allowing just 87 rushing yards a game, and opponents can’t run inside the tackles. The Ravens have too much beef there with nose tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, both of whom can collapse a pocket. From day one of training camp, defensive end Timmy Jernigan has been a disruptive force because of his quickness off the snap. He isn’t overly big but is stout in short-yardage situations. Fellow end Lawrence Guy doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, but he makes one or two outstanding plays a game that often turn the momentum. Grade: A- Linebackers: There was concern about this unit at the beginning of the season because Zachary Orr and Albert McClellan were starting for the first time. Both have played well, with Orr leading the team in tackles with 32. The best player might be C.J. Mosley, who seems more at ease this season playing middle linebacker after being on the weak side the previous two seasons. Mosley is second on the team with 23 tackles, and a lot of them have been made going sideline to sideline. The biggest area of improvement for this group is in pass coverage. Compared to a year ago, the players’ drops into coverage are better, and so is the communication. Tackling has also improved, and the unit prides itself on flying to the football. Grade: B Secondary: The communication is better, and so is the coverage, compared with last season. The Ravens were fortunate in the first three games because they didn’t face a top passing team, but the Raiders exposed them. The Ravens don’t have a top-notch shutdown cornerback. Jimmy Smith plays well at times but isn’t consistent. Opponents have zeroed in on cornerback Shareece Wright. The best pure cover corner might be rookie Tavon Young, but he is small. The Ravens might also want to give Will Davis more playing time. Safety Eric Weddle has played well, but the Ravens aren’t getting much from the other safety, Lardarius Webb. Grade: C Special teams: Kicker Justin Tucker has been the team’s Most Valuable Player. Punter Sam Koch also has performed well, averaging 47.4 yards and landing four punts inside the 20-yard line. Returner Devin Hester Sr. has had fumbling problems the past two weeks and has not taken many risks. The Ravens are allowing 14.6 yards on punt returns, and that’s too much. Penalties have hurt this unit in two of the four games, but the Ravens’ ability to block field-goal and extra-point attempts has helped them win two games. Grade: B+ Coaching: John Harbaugh did a good job of getting his team through training camp and the preseason without many serious injuries. But a lot of his decisions to gamble seem based more on emotion than logic, and that has hurt the Ravens. On offense, the Ravens have not found a rhythm, and the running and passing games have struggled. On defense, the Ravens had better find a way to get pressure late in games on quarterbacks. Grade: C