Final report card


Final report card

Quarterback C-

Elvis Grbac played well at times but didn't step up against the stronger teams. He needs to become tougher and provide leadership. He often locked onto his receivers, and he lost his poise when hit early in games. He is probably a better quarterback than the rest of the offense made him look this season. Backup Randall Cunningham should have played more against the tough defensive teams because he was more elusive and could improvise in a stagnant offense. But coach Brian Billick boxed himself in with Grbac, and he went down in the playoffs with Grbac.

Offensive line D

The Ravens made the right move signing right tackle Leon Searcy in the off-season, but his arm injury in training camp that forced him to miss the season had a significant impact. The Ravens gambled on Kipp Vickers as a starter at either guard or tackle, and they lost. Vickers is nothing more than a stopgap player. Another mistake was taking Sammy Williams out at right tackle without giving him much of a chance. Mike Flynn had a solid season at center, but left tackle Jonathan Ogden wasn't as dominating as in years past. This was supposed to be a breakout year for left guard Edwin Mulitalo, but he didn't live up to the advance billing.

Running backs C

Star running back Jamal Lewis severely hurt the team's chances of repeating when he injured his knee in training camp and was forced to miss the season. It's impossible to replace a player of that caliber. The Ravens got good mileage out of veteran Terry Allen and Jason Brookins, but neither was a threat outside. Fullback Sam Gash performed well as a lead blocker when called upon late in the season, but none of the running backs distinguished himself as a pass blocker, a major staple in the Billick offense.

Receivers C

This unit started out strong, and wide-out Qadry Ismail carried the offense until the final quarter of the season. But he became a non-factor down the stretch. Wide receiver Travis Taylor played well in spurts, but he might be another year away from developing into the go-to receiver the Ravens wanted when they drafted him two years ago. Third-year receiver Brandon Stokley comes up with clutch catches at times, but he is just as inconsistent as Taylor and Ismail when it comes to catching the ball. Tight end Shannon Sharpe was the team's most consistent offensive weapon, but it would have been nice to see the Ravens come up with something creative like a four-receiver set, including speedsters Patrick Johnson and Jermaine Lewis. Wow.

Defensive line B

This group beat up on a lot of teams during the past three seasons, but it couldn't beat Father Time. Tackle Tony Siragusa and left end Rob Burnett had the desire, but both were slowed by nagging injuries. Right end Michael McCrary was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season with 7.5 sacks until a knee injury sidelined him for the season after the 10th game. Tackle Sam Adams wasn't as dominant as last season, but he still is one of the best in the league and had a second consecutive Pro Bowl season. The team also got quality play from reserve tackles Larry Webster and Lional Dalton and ends Adalius Thomas and Kelly Gregg.

Linebackers A-

This would include Peter Boulware, who led the AFC with 15 sacks. Boulware switched to defensive end for the last third of the season after McCrary was hurt. Brad Jackson had a lukewarm performance in Boulware's place, finishing with 25 tackles but failing to make any impact plays in the most extensive action of his career. Ray Lewis again was the best linebacker in the NFL, racking up 196 tackles, three interceptions and 3.5 sacks, and Jamie Sharper finished second on the Ravens with 135 tackles. Overall, this group was the most consistent of any on the defensive or offensive side. The Ravens, though, will have to decide whether to move Boulware back to linebacker next season, and there is speculation that Sharper might be put on the expansion list. If the Ravens lose one in any way, it would be a major loss.

Secondary C+

The holes that looked as though they were plugged during last year's playoff run resurfaced in many games this season. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks took turns struggling, and Starks, an unrestricted free agent, may have played his last game with the Ravens. The Packers' Brett Favre torched the Ravens for 337 yards in the fifth game and gave opposing teams a blueprint on how to attack them vertically. Safety Rod Woodson somehow made the Pro Bowl, but was often on a different page with the cornerbacks (i.e. Plaxico Burress' 32-yard touchdown Sunday that sealed the game for the Steelers). Corey Harris had the best season, his first as a starter, racking up 91 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Harris, too, is a free agent, and the team will have to decide whether to bring Woodson back for a 16th season.

Special teams B

Kicker Matt Stover had another solid year, converting 30 of 35 field-goal tries. Part of his duties went to Danny Kight, who handled kickoffs (and not well all the time). Punter Kyle Richardson finished 15th in the AFC in punting with a 33.6-yard average, but continued to excel at his specialty, putting 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Near the end of the season, his punting was erratic. Jermaine Lewis consistently put the Ravens in good field position in his dual role as kickoff and punt returner, finishing second and third in the AFC, respectively, though he failed to return one for a touchdown until Sunday. Lewis was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad. The Ravens were outstanding covering punts (third in the NFL) but struggled at times covering kickoffs (19th). That unit's success depended on how well many of the young players like Alvin Porter, Edgerton Hartwell, Shannon Taylor and Gary Baxter played. All proved up to the challenge.

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