Handing out Ravens first-quarter awards

A quarter of the way into their 2011 schedule, the Ravens are 3-1 and perched alone atop the AFC North standings. Their flight path wasn’t exactly what folks expected -- most thought that if they dropped a game, it would be to the Steelers in the season opener -- but I’m sure they are pleased with where they sit entering their bye week.   

Now that the Ravens have reached the quarter pole, where injured players such as Ben Grubbs, Lee Evans and Jimmy Smith get an extra week to heal up, let’s take stock of the season’s first month with some first-quarter awards. I have 10 trophies, but feel free to hand out your own hardware in the comments section.

Offensive MVP:  Ray Rice. This one is a no-brainer, really. Rice is the Ravens’ leading rusher and also their leading receiver. He has 539 yards from scrimmage and his four touchdowns are tops on the team, too.

Defensive MVP: Haloti Ngata. Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs warrant consideration, but Ngata is a no-brainer, too. Not only has he forced two fumbles and scored on a fumble return (in the St. Louis game), but his QB pressures have led to three Ravens interceptions. An early Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Most valuable rookie: Torrey Smith. The second-round draft pick out of Maryland pretty much did all of his damage in the big win over the Rams, catching five passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, but what a show it was. Jimmy Smith should have a bigger impact than Torrey when he returns to the field.

Biggest hit: Vonta Leach. The Pro Bowl fullback, signed in the offseason, lays the lumber on an opposing linebacker at least once a game. But I’m giving him this award for hammering Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler after he hauled in a catch during the preseason. I’m sure Siler’s ears are still ringing today. And yes, I know, that isn’t the regular season, but these are my awards so I make the rules. In you insist on being technical about it, I’d go with Haloti Ngata engulfing Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall back in Week 1.

Biggest head-scratcher: The Ravens showed little urgency as they trailed the Titans by 13 points. And then John Harbaugh had Billy Cundiff kick a field goal with seven minutes left. I’m still trying to figure out why.

Best play: After Ray Rice busted out a big run in the opening drive of the Steelers game, Joe Flacco lofted a beautiful pass to Anquan Boldin for a 27-yard touchdown that stunned the Steelers, who never recovered.

Worst play: This was a tough one. The Ravens have avoided killer mistakes so far, which is a big reason why they are 3-1. If I had to pick one, it would be when Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner stepped in front of a pass intended for a gimpy Lee Evans and intercepted Flacco. Like I said, I’m nit-picking here.

Most pleasant surprise: The pass rush wreaks havoc. We knew that Chuck Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, wanted to bring the heat. But who foresaw results like these? The Ravens have racked up 11 sacks, hit opposing quarterbacks 28 times and scored four defensive touchdowns. It’s been fun to watch.

Most unfortunate surprise: Domonique Foxworth hits the IR. The Ravens placed their highest-paid cornerback on injured reserve last week, ending his season after two shaky performances. The team was hopeful that Foxworth would be a major contributor as the season progressed. Now they face depth issues going forward.  

Best quote: Terrell Suggs on beating Ben Roethlisberger. "God can have his soul but his ass belongs to me.”

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