Baltimore Ravens' midseason report card

Quarterback: B-minus Rookie first-round draft pick Joe Flacco has clearly upgraded the passing game, especially over the past three games with four touchdown passes and no interceptions for a 104.1 quarterback rating during that span. Since a three-interception debacle in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Flacco's awareness and instincts have improved markedly.

His accuracy has been top-notch, completing 61.8 percent of his throws. He has also rushed for two touchdowns. However, he has thrown seven interceptions. He has definitely solidified his hold on the job over former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, eliminating any potential quarterback controversy.

Running back: B-plus

The Ravens feature the NFL's fifth-ranked running game, averaging 148.8 rushing yards per game as running backs Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McCLain and talented rookie Ray Rice have each rushed for at least 300 yards. They're the only trio of backs in the league to do so. McGahee has struggled with various injuries while Rice is coming off a breakthrough 154-yard game against the Cleveland Browns. McClain has provided a grinding short-yardage threat with five touchdown runs, and four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal remains a bruising lead blocker.

Receiver: C-plus

There's little mystery about who Joe Flacco wants to throw to. It's veteran Derrick Mason. The two-time Pro Bowl selection leads the team with 43 receptions for 557 yards and two touchdowns. With the exception of a long touchdown catch against the Browns, Mark Clayton has primarily been a non-factor and tight end Todd Heap has disappeared from the offense outside of blocking. Heap has caught just 13 passes for 137 yards. Demetrius Williams is out for the season with a bone spur underneath his left Achilles' tendon that required surgery. No one has stepped forward as a viable replacement as the third wide receiver.

Offensive line: B-plus

Expected to struggle in the wake of All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden's retirement, instead they have done a credible job of blocking to generate a physical, productive running game. New position coach John Matsko has done an admirable job of developing a young, maturing line. Joe Flacco has been sacked 14 times in eight starts. Despite a season-ending injury to gritty right guard Marshal Yanda and missed time for right tackle Adam Terry, the line has held together. Left tackle Jared Gaither is an athletic lineman with considerable upside. Center Jason Brown is the emotional leader of the line, and left guard Ben Grubbs is quietly having a stellar season. Veteran tackle Willie Anderson was a key signing. The Ravens rank third in the NFL in converting third-and-1 situations, going 15 for 17 for an 88.2 percent conversion rate.

Defensive line: B-plus

Although the Ravens are without nose guard Kelly Gregg, who's out for the season after undergoing microfracture knee surgery, they haven't missed a beat upfront. Haloti Ngata is having a Pro Bowl season, registering 39 tackles, one sack and an interception. He's a destructive, athletic force inside. Justin Bannan has filled in capably for Gregg with 28 tackles. They have both done a solid job of keeping blockers off the inside linebackers. Defensive end Trevor Pryce has 21 tackles and three sacks, and swingman Marques Douglas has contributed 25 tackles.

Linebacker: A-minus.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is having a banner season. He remains an intimidating presence, breaking Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder on a big hit. He leads the defense with 83 tackles with one sack and a forced fumble. Terrell Suggs is earning himself a lot of money in a contract year with 56 tackles, a team-high five sacks and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Bart Scott, who like Suggs and Lewis is in the final year of his contract, has toned down his interview style as well as his histrionics from a year ago, but hasn't been quiet on the field with 51 tackles and better pass coverage than a year ago. An underrated Jarret Johnson doesn't get enough credit, but is extremely valuable with 45 tackles and two sacks.

Secondary: B-minus

This group has overachieved with three starters sidelined for the majority of the season in cornerbacks Chris McAlister (right knee) and Samari Rolle (neck surgery) and strong safety Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion). Plus, free safety Ed Reed is limited because of a nerve impingement. The Ravens have intercepted 10 passes, including three from McAlister whose status is in doubt for the rest of the season, and are allowing just 182.1 passing yards per game to rank fourth in the league in passing defense. They have allowed 10 touchdown passes. Jim Leonhard has been sharp in relief of Landry with 38 tackles and a sack, and replacement cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Frank Walker have performed decently, too.

Special teams: B-minus

Kicker Matt Stover has rebounded from an uncharacteristically shaky start to convert 12 of 15 field goals, including making each kick inside 40 yards. Return specialist Yamon Figurs has struggled with his decision-making and injuries, averaging just 7.3 yards per punt return and 19.6 yards per kickoff return. Jim Leonhard has been steady and decisive filling in for Figurs. Kick coverage has been shaky at times, especially the shoddy tackling in Cleveland. Although the Ravens acquired special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo during the offseason with a $4.9 million deal, this unit seems to miss former linebacker Gary Stills' fiery, hard-hitting style. Punter Sam Koch is having a Pro Bowl year, booming his kicks with distance, hang time and placement.

Coaching: B-plus

First-year coach John Harbaugh seems to have energized the team, making the players tougher and more disciplined. However, he could stand for improvement on when he calls for instant-replay challenges. The play-calling of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been much more unpredictable than Brian Billick, and clock management and the running game have come a long way since last year. And defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's aggressive schemes have kept the Ravens on an elite track, ranking second in total defense. The Ravens are one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and are tied for the AFC wild-card lead. They have already tied their victory total from last season under former coach Brian Billick.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital


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