If there was one player you didn't expect to play poorly in the playoffs, it was Steve McNair (above), but he turned in a dud. Overall, if it weren't for McNair, the Ravens wouldn't have won a couple of games in the last minute nor would they have gotten to the playoffs. He improved the passing game this season even though he was erratic at times. There were questions about his arm strength early in the season, but he proved he still has some life in his right arm. More importantly, he gave the entire team confidence and a swagger that has been missing for years. Kyle Boller proved he was a serviceable backup. He was a good stop-gap solution because he had started the previous three years.
Starting halfback Jamal Lewis (above) never got on track. He started the season slowly and got better as the year went on, but he wasn't the old Lewis. He was hesitant at times and missed holes. He seemed as if he didn't have confidence in the offensive line, especially on the right side. The foot speed was there, but not the acceleration. The Ravens made a mistake by not using him in the second half of the Indianapolis game. Ovie Mughelli developed well as a fullback, and by the end of the season he had become a good blocker and a threat as both a runner and receiver. The Ravens paid halfback Mike Anderson too much money to be only a backup.
The group was hit hard by injuries, and overall played better than most expected. Guard Edwin Mulitalo missed extensive time and guard Keydrick Vincent also missed time because of injury, and left tackle Jonathan Ogden (above) missed the last two regular-season games because of a toe injury. Ogden, though, still had a Pro Bowl season. Left guard Jason Brown was decent filling in for Mulitalo most of the season, and rookie Chris Chester showed a lot of potential playing right guard. Tony Pashos was solid at right tackle, but the Ravens need to improve at the center and guard positions. This group needs to become more athletic, and McNair made the line better at pass protection than it really looked because of the way he moved in the pocket.
Second-year receiver Mark Clayton (above) came into his own and became a go-to receiver for McNair outside the red zone. Clayton was good at finding the holes in zones and making yards after the catch. Tight end Todd Heap was the go-to receiver inside the opposition's 20-yard line. Heap didn't have great numbers because McNair did a good job of spreading the ball around, but he had a strong year and some sensational catches. Receiver Derrick Mason started off strong but disappeared from the offense late in the season. He complained, and some of it was justified, but he could have done a better job making yards after the catch. Rookie Demetrius Williams became the Ravens' No. 3 receiver late in the season and gave the team a vertical threat. Clarence Moore and Devard Darling, two other young receivers, were disappointments.
End/tackle Trevor Pryce (above) brought some baggage with him from Denver, but played extremely well in Baltimore. As expected, he had an impact as a pass rusher but overachieved in run defense. Rookie tackle Haloti Ngata got off to a slow start but began getting penetration once he learned how to use his hands and keep linemen away from his body. He is going to be a force. Tackle Kelly Gregg was his usual, dependable self - an underrated presence in the middle. His forte is stuffing the run, but he improved as a pass rusher. Terrell Suggs was outstanding on the end. He turned his game up a notch this season, finally outplaying some of the better tackles in the league. He even improved playing against the run.
It's official now. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (above) is the third-best linebacker on the roster. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad and was dominant as both a pass rusher and run stopper. It's incredible watching a 270-pound defender running stride-for-stride with a tight end down the field. Outside linebacker Bart Scott made a name for himself around the league. Offenses now have to be aware of him on the field because he is a good pass rusher. Like Thomas, Scott was athletic. Lewis was still a factor, and he always plays hard. A step slower than he was years ago, he still might be the first player you put on the roster if you were starting a new team.
Cornerback Chris McAlister (above) started strong, slipped a little and then became dominant again at the end of the season. Teams started throwing away from him. Fellow cornerback Samari Rolle struggled this season, and gave up several big plays. The Ravens had to give him a lot of help. Look for Rolle to possibly become the nickel back next season. Safety Ed Reed finished strong after being caught out of position several times early in the season. Rookie safety Dawan Landry played well but has to improve in pass coverage. Barring lapses in coverages during several games, the group played well overall.
The kicking game was outstanding with kicker Matt Stover (above) and punter Sam Koch. Koch, a rookie, was unheralded in college but kept other teams pinned down. B.J. Sams had become a factor in games as a return specialist, but his ankle injury had a major impact on the Ravens late in the season. Led by linebacker Gary Stills, the Ravens had good coverage on punt teams but gave up too much yardage on kickoffs. Cory Ross was slow contributing as a replacement for Sams but started to play well during the last two games.