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Making the grade: Ravens first-half report card

The Ravens lived up to my lofty expectations — I picked them to win the Super Bowl, remember? — in the first half of the 2010 season. As they battled to an as-good-as-expected 5-2 record before their bye week, there were pleasant surprises and exposed flaws, so let me bust out my red teacher's pen and hand out my first-half grades.

Quarterback: B+
Third-year quarterback Joe Flacco has lived up to the hype, throwing nine touchdown passes and just one interception since his four-interception performance in Week 2. Flacco has led two fourth-quarter comebacks, picked up gritty road wins at New York and Pittsburgh and went pass-for-pass with Tom Brady in the overtime loss at New England. He still has a lot of work ahead of him in the mental aspect of the position, but physically, Flacco has shown he has the tools to become elite.
Comments: More film study, keep the brotastic hairdo

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Running backs: B
After Ozzie Newsome's offseason overhaul at wide receiver and the expansion of the passing section in the offensive playbook, there have been fewer carries to go around for Ray Rice, a Pro Bowl selection in 2009, and Willis McGahee. Rice has been solid but unspectacular — at times trying too hard to bust out a big-gainer (something he has yet to do in 2010). McGahee runs hard when the coaching staff doesn't chain him to the bench. Fullback Le'Ron McClain is still one of the NFL's best blocking backs, but he has been a non-factor as a ball carrier.
Comments: Keep giving Rice the rock at the goal line

Wide receivers/tight ends: A-
Anquan Boldin, the biggest piece added to the team's championship puzzle, has fit in nicely in Baltimore. He has clicked with Flacco and is on pace to record more than 80 catches and 10 touchdowns. Derrick Mason is still effective, and though T.J. Houshmandzadeh hasn't played as large of a role as expected, he hauled in that huge game-winning catch against the Steelers. Todd Heap is a beast, and if he survives the second half, he should put up his best numbers since 2006.
Comments: Preserve Heap by working rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta into the game plan

Offensive line: B-

After a rocky start to the season, the Ravens offensive line has done a nice job protecting Flacco the past few weeks. Michael Oher has often looked like a future Pro Bowler. But the Ravens haven't been running the ball as well with Marshal Yanda switched over to right tackle.
Comments: Jared Gaither was a major disappointment

Overall grade for offense: B+

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Defensive line:  C+
The hallmark of the Ravens defense has always been stopping the run, but in 2010, the Ravens are allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 114.9 rushing yards a game — and it's not as if they have gone up against elite running backs. Kelly Gregg is on the decline. Terrence Cody has yet to make an impact. And Cory Redding ... he's still on the team, right? Despite all that, Haloti Ngata is playing well enough to garner serious consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Comments: Without Ngata, this group gets a solid D

Linebackers:  B-
Ray Lewis is still playing at a high level, racking up tackles left and right. He is a liability in pass coverage, though. Terrell Suggs needs to be a bigger factor in the pass rush. Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain are useful players.
Comments: Losing outside linebacker Sergio Kindle has hurt more than expected

Secondary:  B-
The play of the Ravens secondary in the first quarter of the season was one of the biggest surprises around the league, but the defensive backs played down to preseason expectations against the Broncos, the Patriots and the Bills. Still, it's hard to grade the secondary fairly considering the absence of Ed Reed, the season-ending injury to Domonique Foxworth and that non-existent pass rush.
Comments: The return of Reed should help to limit the damage in the second half

Overall grade for defense: B-

Special teams:  B
Billy Cundiff, who had to win the kicking job in training camp, has been excellent. Ditto for punter Sam Koch. But their 'A' games are balanced out by the Ravens' snooze-worthy return teams.
Comments: Donte' Stallworth and rookie David Reed might be the answers in the return game.

Overall grade for special teams, obviously: B

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