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Mike Preston’s first-quarter report card: Position-by-position grades for Ravens' 3-1 start | COMMENTARY

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on linebacker Matt Judon play against Washington Football team on Sunday.

The Ravens wrapped up the first quarter of the season Sunday with a 14-point victory against the Washington Football Team. They’ve started 3-1, winning three games by a total of 63 points.

The Ravens' lone loss was a 34-20 setback to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who have beaten the Ravens in their past three meetings. The scary part wasn’t how many points the Ravens lost by, but how they lost.

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They had a lethargic offensive effort in the first half and a totally inept performance by the defense for the entire game. It’s great that the Ravens played the Chiefs early because they get a chance to fix some things.

So far, the running game hasn’t reached its potential and the Ravens still haven’t found a way to come back and win against a quality opponent such as Kansas City. Defensively, they haven’t been able to mount a consistent pass rush the way they did a year ago, and a much-hyped defense line hasn’t been overly impressive.

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Regardless, the Ravens are 3-1 and in a good situation with tough games coming up against the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans. But before we jump ahead, The Baltimore Sun hands out its annual quarterly grades:

Quarterback

Lamar Jackson makes everything go in this offense. He has played well in three of the four games and is a threat as both a passer and a runner. Jackson is the team’s leading rusher with 235 yards and a touchdown on 39 attempts. He hasn’t been as dazzling as a year ago, but the season is still young. Jackson has completed 67 of 98 passes for 769 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. Despite having a completion rate of 68.4% and a passer rating of 111.3, he needs to be more consistent throwing the deep ball and he has missed open receivers at times. Grade: B+

Running backs

The Ravens are using a committee approach with the trio of Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins. Ingram has the most carries, with 34 for 148 yards and two touchdowns, but has lacked the explosion and burst of a year ago. Edwards, the top backup, leads the running backs with 167 yards on 27 carries. He has provided a spark for the offense in the second half of the past two games but hasn’t been able to wrestle the starting position away from Ingram. Dobbins, a rookie, has two touchdowns and 92 yards on 15 carries but has been used more as a receiving threat in passing situations. Grade: B-

Receivers

Jackson has to prove that he can win or come from behind in postseason games, and the receivers are in a similar position. They have to prove that they can make big catches in big games. Overall, it’s been a solid group through the first quarter of the season, led by tight end Mark Andrews, who has 12 catches for 166 yards and four touchdowns. But he dropped at least two passes in key situations against Kansas City, and receiver Marquise Brown was a no-show in that game, even though he has 16 catches for 242 yards this year. The Ravens have to get more production out of receivers Willie Snead IV (10 catches for 117 yards) and Miles Boykin (10 catches for 111 yards), or it might be time to give rookies James Proche II and Devin Duvernay more playing time. Proche seems to fit better outside, while Duvernay can play inside or outside. Grade: C

Offensive line

A year ago, this group’s run-blocking was overpowering, but it hasn’t been as successful this season in knocking opponents off the ball. More teams have been successful crowding the line of scrimmage to shut down the run, and the Ravens haven’t shown a complementary passing game to back defenders out of the box. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled with injuries and right guard Tyre Phillips is only a rookie. The Ravens' forte is still the running game, but big, physical players such as right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard Bradley Bozeman struggle when the Ravens are behind and have to pass protect. Center Matt Skura has been solid, but not as good as he was last season before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-November. Grade: B

Defensive line

The Ravens are allowing 97.5 rushing yards per game, but the line hasn’t performed up to its preseason billing. Nose tackle Brandon Williams has played well against the run and defensive end Calais Campbell has turned in a steady, all-around performance, including knocking down a key pass here and there, but more was expected after the Ravens added Campbell and fellow end Derek Wolfe during the offseason. Campbell leads the linemen with 14 tackles, followed by Williams with 13 and Wolfe with 12, but they have combined for only one sack. This group might be the key to the Ravens advancing deep into the playoffs. If the Ravens can get pressure with their front three or four, it leaves the secondary less vulnerable and allows coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale to blitz less often. Grade: B-

Linebackers

The Ravens have been consistently inconsistent at this position. Part of the problem is that they don’t have a dominant player in this group. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team in sacks in 2019 with 9½, didn’t get his first sack of the season until Week 4 against Washington. He had been solid against the run but wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game until Sunday. His partner on the other side, Pernell McPhee, hasn’t been productive, and the best of the outside linebacker group might be Tyus Bowser, who has nine tackles and two sacks. Rookie Patrick Queen, starting on the inside, has good speed and instincts, but he has struggled in pass coverage along with fellow rookie Malik Harrison. Queen leads the team in tackles with 33, while Harrison has nine. Veteran L.J. Fort, playing on the weak-side, has 18. Grade: B-

Secondary

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been a standout player again. He has made several big plays and is third on the team in tackles with 23. He is versatile enough to play outside or inside and has become a team leader. Safety Chuck Clark is second on the team in tackles with 28 and has made several touchdown-saving stops. Safety DeShon Elliott has 17 tackles and there has been little drop off from Earl Thomas III to Elliott after Thomas was released before the season opener. Cornerback Marcus Peters struggled against the Chiefs, but what Ravens defensive player didn’t? Overall, Peters has played well, even though he doesn’t like to tackle, and the Ravens have gotten good support from nickelback Jimmy Smith, who can still cover deep in zone concepts. Smith has replaced Tavon Young, who is out for the season because of a torn ACL. Grade: B+

Special teams

This group has made strong improvements. The Ravens have the best kicking game in the NFL with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch. Tucker is 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts, including 4-for-4 from the range of 40 to 49 yards. Koch has a net average of nearly 45 yards per punt. The return game has big-play potential in Duvernay on kickoffs and Proche on punt returns. Duvernay returned a kickoff for a 93-yard touchdown against Kansas City. Grade: A

Coaching

Coach John Harbaugh has done well keeping his players levelheaded despite the high expectations. The Ravens have built up from a year ago both offensively and defensively, but they have to find more innovative ways to beat Kansas City. Offensively, the Ravens have to come up with a plan for Jackson to be successful if, and when, they fall behind. The New England Patriots constructed a defense to slow down the Chiefs. Why can’t the Ravens? The NFL is a copycat league. The Ravens need to start copying. Grade: B

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