Team: Baltimore Ravens
Record: 11-5 Home: 6-2 Away 5-3 Division: 4-2
Coaching Staff – B+
Rookie head coach John Harbaugh has put together a very fine veteran coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is truly one of the very best coaches in the game and should be given serious head coaching consideration. Cam Cameron has done a nice job grooming the rookie quarterback, but before somebody out there starts thinking a head coaching position, stop thinking! John Matsko is a veteran offensive line coach.
Offensive Line – B+
Chris Chester is an undersized guard, but is an excellent athlete with exceptional quickness and body control. Ditto for Ben Grubb, his partner on the left side. Jason Brown has excellent strength and worked well in tandem with his talented pair of guards. The tackles features the veteran Willie Anderson and second year pro Jared Gaither have held up fairly well, but there is not much in reserve in this critical area.
Wide Receivers / Tight End – B-
Derrick Mason is truly an ageless wonder at thirty-four years of age. On the season he caught 80 balls for 1037. Mark Clayton and tight end Todd Heap were adequate in support. No other receiver showed much during the 2008 season, but Yamon Figurs has some shake and bake and is a dangerous kick and punt return man.
Running Backs – A
With Willis McGahee on the shelf during the early goings, the Ravens had to depend on an undersized rookie Ray Rice and fullback turned one back LaRon McClain.. I like this group a great deal. All are distinctly different in terms of size and running style, but are very effective runners.
Quarterback – B
This guy Flacco is a flat out stud, who has a chance to become something awful special. He's a much better athlete then most people thought and he can really spin the football. I like his poise (doesn't get rattled) and he got decidedly better as the year progressed. I believe he's going to be pretty special.
Defensive Line – B-
It all starts in the middle and Haloti Ngatais is a very strong two gap players who restricts the inside running game. The key to the three-four defense is getting upfield pressure from the five techniques and in veteran Trevor Pryce they have exactly what they are looking for at this critical position.
Linebackers – A+
Jarret Johnson is exactly what he was at the U of Alabama, a tough sucker with no quit in him. His counterpart on the left side Terrell Suggs is a very solid pass rusher from the outside. Inside backers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott are two very nasty individuals who put a hurting on people. The veteran Lewis, may have slowed a step, but is still as physical and intense a player as there is in the game today.
Secondary – A-
With all hands on deck, this is as impressive a group as there is in the league. There is some age at the corners, but Samari Rolle can still play the game. Fabian Washington is a developing player but is not near Chris McAlister in terms of experience and physical ability. Inside there is nobody in the game today that is playing to the level of Ed Reed. He's a playmaker with outstanding ball skills and instincts. The Ravens miss Dawan Landry inside. Jim Leonhart plays hard, but is undersized and struggles in coverage.
Special Teams – B-
The kicking game I felt was adequate at best. Coverage teams are always first rate, while their main return man Yamon Figurs has speed and good run instincts.
Injury Factor – The Ravens have had more than their share of injuries in 2008, with probably none more important than cornerback Chris McAlister, nose tackle Kelly Gregg, safety Dawan Landry and rookie linebacker Tavares Gooden.
Team Offensive MVP – LaRon McClain
Team Defensive MVP – Ed Reed
Top Rookie – Joe Flacco
Top Free Agent – Willie Anderson
Team Strength – linebackers, secondary, running game
Team Weakness – wide receiver depth, offensive tackle
Final Word – This is a far better club than it was at the start of the 2008 season. The club has run the ball effectively and Flacco has improved a great deal, particularly in the second half of the season. Defensively in spite of the numerous injuries, this unit has played exceptionally well.