Ravens' midseason review

Quarterback<br><br> Kyle Boller remains erratic on intermediate and deep passes, although his accuracy on short throws and overall fundamentals and mechanics have improved slightly over the last two weeks. Because Boller lacks ideal skill talent outside and doesn't have Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap healthy, his outlook is clouded.

Boller needs to do a better job of leading his receivers and throwing a catchable football, fumble less and not stare down his primary read. He's a talented athlete with mobility and arm strength who has an upside, but the Ravens are reluctant to throw much and are extremely reliant on their running game and stingy defense. Last year's first-round draft pick has been glaringly outperformed by other young quarterbacks like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich. The Ravens are definitely committed to Boller, who's only 23 and could still get better if developed properly.

Running backs

Jamal Lewis is once again the offensive centerpiece after missing two games due to a suspension. He's a burly 245-pound All-Pro capable of bulldozing linebackers and outrunning smaller defensive backs. Judging from Brian Billick's response to his gripes about not getting the ball enough in a win over the Cleveland Browns, Lewis is likely to be heavily involved in the second half of the season. Without a top-flight passing game, Lewis is the No. 1 option offensively. Fullback Alan Ricard is a rugged lead blocker, and Chester Taylor adeptly picked up the slack while Lewis was out.


Without Heap for six games and Travis Taylor for four games with injuries, the Ravens' last-ranked passing game has averaged 9.7 yards per reception with only three touchdown catches. From week to week, the game plan has varied as to whether Randy Hymes, Kevin Johnson and Clarence Moore would be involved. Hymes, the team's leading receiver, was beginning to emerge as a threat and hasn't been emphasized over the last few games as the 6-foot-6 intriguing Moore has caught the coaching staff's eye. Meanwhile, Johnson has only 14 catches after averaging 57 catches in his previous five seasons. He doesn't seem to be a good fit for this offense because of his lack of ideal size.

Offensive line

The Ravens have allowed 20 sacks, but have done a decent job overall of pass protection considering that left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a seven-time All-Pro, has been sidelined for three games. Ethan Brooks has performed capably in his place over the last two weeks.Casey Rabach has excelled at center, adding an element of athleticism with regular starter Mike Flynn missing the first seven games after breaking his collarbone. Guard Bennie Anderson and tackle Orlando Brown have contributed with their bulky, physical presence on the right side as Baltimore has averaged 133.6 rushing yards per contest. Brown is an aggressive blocker, but needs to control his temper.

Defensive line

Quick left end Tony Weaver is having an excellent season, recording three sacks and recovering a fumble. Gritty nose guard Kelly Gregg hasn't been quite as active as last season when he led all NFL down linemen with 104 tackles, but remains a tough customer up front who has recovered from minor knee surgery. Right end Marques Douglas ranks third on the team in tackles and has harassed quarterbacks all year, although he only has one sack to show for his constant effort.


All-Pro Ray Lewis remains an intimidating presence and leads Baltimore with 111 tackles, 13.8 per game. Inside linebacker Ed Hartwell ranks second with 73 stops. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is one of the best pass rushers in the league, and last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the year has 7 ½ sacks to rank second in the AFC. Adalius Thomas has excelled with Peter Boulware being out with a knee injury. The versatile Thomas has three sacks, an interception, five pass deflections and two forced fumbles.


Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed leads an elite group. He has four interceptions and has scored two touchdowns while forcing two fumbles. Reed dashed 106 yards to establish an NFL record for the longest interception return in a 27-13 win over Cleveland on Sunday. Pro Bowl selection Chris McAlister is a shutdown cornerback and received a $55 million contract extension last month. He has returned one interception for a touchdown. Cornerback Gary Baxter has deflected nine passes and forced a fumble while ranking fourth on the team with 48 tackles. Baxter may be the next Raven to sign a contract extension. Nickel back Deion Sanders has intercepted three passes, returning one for a score, with six pass deflections. Stocky dime back Chad Williams is always around the football, and has two interceptions, returning one 93 yards against Buffalo.

Special teams

Electrifying rookie B.J. Sams has scored twice on punt returns and has 364 punt return yards to break Jermaine Lewis' previous rookie record of 339 yards set in 1996. Veteran kicker Matt Stover has converted 14 of 15 field goals, missing none under 50 yards. And punter Dave Zastudil is averaging 41.2 yards, downing 16 inside opponents' 20-yard lines.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com

Ravens Insider Top Stories