Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
The first four games usually determine the course of a season for most NFL teams, but not the Ravens.
They played well against two of the weakest teams in the league to start the season, beating the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. At the time, it looked like the Ravens were headed to the Super Bowl.
Then along came Kansas City and Cleveland. The loss to the Chiefs was expected, but the 15-point setback to the Browns was disappointing.
Those first four games were revealing for the Ravens (2-2). They are an average bunch and a second-tier playoff team, at best, right now. Two major problems heading into the season still haven’t been solved. They still need to find a top-notch pass rusher, and the young linebackers, both inside and outside, must take the defense to the next level.
The Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road Sunday and host the Cincinnati Bengals the following week. Then they hit a rough part of their schedule, traveling to Seattle to face the Seahawks and playing the New England Patriots at home after a bye.
But before the Ravens move on to the second quarter of the season, The Baltimore Sun gives out its first-quarter grades.
Lamar Jackson has improved, but there isn’t much confidence he can lead the team deep into the playoffs. He has made strides with his throwing motion and ability to read the field, and he looks more comfortable in the pocket, but his accuracy is still a problem. Against good teams, he gets rattled at times, but he has a better deep ball and better touch on short-to-intermediate passes than a year ago. When he gets his shoulder pads squared at the line of scrimmage and turns the corner as a runner, there isn’t a more dangerous offensive player in the NFL. Overall, the improvement has been steady from 2018, but there are still a few more levels for Jackson to reach. Grade: B+
Jackson has completed 87 of 134 passes for 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns, and halfback Mark Ingram II has complemented him by rushing for 328 yards on 55 carries and five touchdowns. So far, Ingram has proved to be the Ravens’ top offseason acquisition. Not only does he run hard inside the tackles and perform well as a pass blocker but he is the consummate professional, working with and teaching the younger players. Backup Gus Edwards started off slowly but has performed well in the past two games. The Ravens drafted Justice Hill in the fourth round to be a change-of-pace back and receiving threat out of the backfield, but that hasn’t materialized. He hasn’t done much, and in some ways has been disappointing. Patrick Ricard, a part-time defensive lineman, is becoming one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Grade: B
Overall, this group has performed better than expected. There were more questions about the line than any other offensive unit entering the season, but the Ravens have the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 205.8 yards per game, largely because of Jackson’s success. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. have played well in both the pass and run games. Both have been physical at the point of attack. Right guard Marshal Yanda has also turned in a solid effort. Against the run, left guard Bradley Bozeman and center Matt Skura have played well, but they struggle in pass protection. If the Ravens fall behind and need to pass, they are in trouble. Both Bozeman and Skura have slow feet, while Brown has trouble with speed rushers on the outside. But, overall, this unit has been a pleasant surprise. Grade: B
Rookie Marquise Brown started the season well by scoring touchdowns on his first two catches. Despite being slowed by leg injuries, he has shown great breakaway speed and elusiveness. Maybe the most surprising element of his game has been his soft hands. Tight end Mark Andrews had a great training camp and preseason and has performed equally well in the first four games, catching 23 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Keep an eye on fellow tight end Hayden Hurst. He has eight catches for 95 yards and Jackson appears to be growing more comfortable with him. The Ravens have used several other receivers to start opposite Brown, and they need one to come through as teams focus more on Brown. Willie Snead IV, Seth Roberts and Miles Boykin are challenging for the other starting position, with Snead catching eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Grade C+
In the first two weeks, the Ravens were stellar against the run, but they had trouble against the Chiefs and Browns. Last Sunday, the Ravens were without nose tackle Brandon Williams, one of the best run stoppers in the NFL. Williams is expected to play Sunday against the Steelers, so that should help. Fourth-year tackle Michael Pierce has played reasonably well and is tied for fourth on the team in tackles with 13. The Ravens have gotten steady but not spectacular play from Chris Wormley, who has only one tackle this season. Ricard, a reserve, has played well in spot duty and might be their best pass rusher inside. The Ravens have only five linemen on the roster, but they’re going to need more before the season ends. The Ravens need someone from this group to emerge as a consistent pass rusher. Grade: C+
Kansas City exposed the Ravens’ fast but light inside linebackers by running straight at them, and Cleveland did the same thing a week later. The Ravens need more beef inside. Middle linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who leads the team in tackles with 23, has great speed but sometimes overpursues the play. Weak-side linebacker Kenny Young has had some good moments but needs to become more consistent, and second-year weak-side linebacker Chris Board hasn’t played well since a training camp injury. Starting outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon have played well at times, but don’t have replacements who can give them adequate rest. Judon (16 tackles) has been the team’s best pass rusher but not dominant. The Ravens were hoping third-year pass rushers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser would progress, but Bowser has only five tackles and Williams was cut earlier this week. The Ravens haven’t been able to cover tight ends or running backs for years, and it’s the same in 2019. Grade: D
This group looks lost and has given up big plays every week. The coaches have said it’s a result of miscommunication, so either the players aren’t getting the concepts or the coaches are failing to get their points across. The Ravens have played most of the first four games without starting cornerback Jimmy Smith and slot cornerback Tavon Young because of injuries. Of course that will hurt, but veteran safeties Earl Thomas III and Tony Jefferson have also been caught out of position. The only cornerback who has played well is third-year performer Marlon Humphrey. Right now, this is a shell-shocked group, and they fear giving up another big play. The Ravens had crisp tackling in the first two games, but they regressed against Cleveland last week. The Ravens might get a chance to regroup against second-year Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph on Sunday because most of his passes are short. The Ravens need to regain some confidence. Right now, they’ve had their spirit broken and are allowing 302 passing yards per game. Grade: D
These units have been productive. The Ravens are averaging 14.7 yards on punt returns and 20.3 yards on kickoff returns while allowing only 3.0 yards on punt returns and 16.1 yards on kickoff returns. Justin Tucker has converted all six field-goal attempts, including one outside of 50 yards. Sam Koch is averaging 46.9 yards per punt. Now, if they can continue to correct some of those goofy penalties ... Grade: B+
The Ravens have done a good job of rebuilding the offense and shaping it around Jackson, which was vital heading into the offseason. The running game is strong, but the Ravens still have to square away their passing attack. Finding another starting receiver is a priority. Meanwhile, the defense has been a mess. Receivers have been left wide open, and the Ravens have had trouble getting their personnel on and off the field during substitutions. Coach John Harbaugh has failed on several 2-point conversion attempts, and his gambles against Kansas City helped cost the Ravens the game. In fact, this staff has come up short in the past two games. Grade: C