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Ravens: Key questions entering second quarter of season

A quarter of the way through the season and the Baltimore Ravens are 3-1 and in first place in the AFC North. Here are some key questions facing the Ravens as they head into the second quarter of their season:

What are the team's biggest concerns at this point?

Two things that go hand in hand - the pass defense and creating more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Ravens have yielded 320 yards or more to three straight quarterbacks and their pass defense is ranked fourth worst in the NFL through the first month of the season. But while much of the criticism has been directed toward cornerback Cary Williams, and he did struggle during the first three games, Baltimore's linebackers deserve a large portion of the blame as well.

A weak group against the pass, the Ravens' linebackers, both inside and outside, have been consistently exploited by opposing quarterbacks. It also hasn't helped that Baltimore has been unable to generate a consistent pass rush without blitzing, which has put more pressure on the pass defense. Outside linebackers Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan have combined for just two sacks through the first four games.

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Is Terrell Suggs going to be back at some point this season?

Barring some sort of setback in his recovery, that looks on pace to happen at some point during the latter part of October or early part of November. Ravens coach John Harbaugh did warn that expectations should be tempered for Suggs upon his return, but any Suggs, whether he's 70 percent, 80 percent or whatever, is sure to improve a Baltimore pass rush that has struggled without him.

Suggs is eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list Oct. 21 against the Houston Texans. The Ravens will have three weeks following that game to either activate him or put him on season-ending injured reserve. Baltimore has a bye following its game against the Texans and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Suggs return for the game immediately following the bye, Nov. 4 against the Cleveland Browns.

What's been the biggest bright spot through the first four games?

The offense, no doubt. The Ravens are ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring (30.8 points/game), second in total offense (424 yards/game) and quarterback Joe Flacco is the league's third leading passer. Flacco is averaging 317 passing yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns with just three interceptions. He's averaging nearly 13 yards per completion and his 23 passing plays of 20 yards or more are a league-high.

Torrey Smith leads the Ravens in both receiving yards (332) and touchdown catches (three), but is just one of five Baltimore pass catchers with 170 yards or more. Running back Ray Rice is one those players. And while Baltimore's offense has been more geared around the pass, the multi-dimensional Rice still ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (491). He has 317 yards and three scores on the ground, averaging five yards per carry, and has caught 22 passes for 174 yards.

Games against the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans in back-to-back weeks, Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, will give a nice gauge of just how good the Ravens' offense really is. The Texans are the top-rated defense in the NFL at this point. The Cowboys' defense is ranked fourth.

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Who are some players that could emerge during the rest of the year?

Tight end Ed Dickson is one. Obviously, Dennis Pitta has played the bigger role among the tight ends through the early part of the season, and will continue to see plenty of targets going forward, but it's hard to envision there not being some opportunities for the athletic Dickson as well. Running back Bernard Pierce could be another offensive player to keep an eye on. A physical, nice-sized runner with good vision and underrated speed, Pierce has provided a nice complement to Rice during the last two games.

From a defensive standpoint, Upshaw and McClellan have both played well, especially against the run, and should only get better as the year goes on. Kruger, meanwhile, is the team's top pass rusher without Suggs in there and should be expected to provide more pressure as a rusher now that he's healthy.

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