The Ravens have won four straight games and five of their past six, but the second half of the season will be tougher.
Their streak includes big wins against top NFC teams — Detroit (38-6) and Seattle (37-3) — but the Ravens (7-2) must face division foes Cleveland and Cincinnati in back-to-back weeks, take on the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams, then close out the regular season at Jacksonville and San Francisco before hosting Miami and Pittsburgh.
These will be different Browns (5-3) and Bengals (5-3) teams than the ones the Ravens beat earlier this season. Cleveland played without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has missed much of the season with a shoulder injury but returned last week, and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow lacked mobility because of an injured calf. He’s been back to his usual self amid a four-game winning streak.
But that’s looking into the future. Before the second half of 2023 begins, The Baltimore Sun gives out its position-by-position grades for the Ravens through the first nine games.
Lamar Jackson has completed 181 of 253 passes for 1,954 yards and nine touchdowns. He has a passer rating of 100.8 and a league-best completion rate of 71.5%. He seems to have picked up the new offense, and his decision-making and passes inside the red zone have improved significantly this season compared with the past five. He still throws behind receivers too often, but the win over Seattle was the first time he didn’t have to put on a Superman cape for the Ravens to win. He was a game manager, and that showed the progress of this offense. Grade: A-
The Ravens have the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 160.3 yards per game, and have been steadily pounding Gus Edwards (478 yards on 110 carries) inside to pair with the burst of Justice Hill (251 yards on 58 carries). Of course, Jackson (440 yards on 84 carries) makes the rushing game go, but it will be interesting to see how the Ravens can work rookie Keaton Mitchell into the rotation after he rushed for 138 yards on nine carries against the Seahawks on Sunday. It will be hard to do, but it’s a good problem to have. Mitchell gives the offense another speedy option besides Jackson. Grade: B
Jackson has done a decent job gradually getting all his receivers some touches. The Ravens still need more consistency from Odell Beckham Jr. (19 catches for 218 yards) and Rashod Bateman (17 catches for 180 yards) but have gotten strong efforts all season from rookie Zay Flowers (45 catches for 472 yards) and veteran tight end Mark Andrews (41 catches for 477 yards). Nelson Agholor (28 catches for 224 yards) hasn’t been featured much but still plays a complementary role. Keep an eye on No. 2 tight end Isaiah Likely, who had his best game of the season Sunday. He could become an integral part of this offense late in the season, especially when the weather changes and the Ravens want to go with more of a two-tight-end look. Grade: C+
The main reason the Ravens have the league’s top rushing offense is they can move defensive lines off the ball. That wasn’t the case in recent weeks, especially inside the red zone, but that’s no longer a problem. The middle of this group has been dominant with center Tyler Linderbaum, right guard Kevin Zeitler and left guard John Simpson. Linderbaum has performed at a Pro Bowl level with his quickness and ability to make blocks into the second level. Right tackle Morgan Moses excels at run blocking but has problems with speed rushers. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled with both speed and power rushers, and it appears his surgically repaired ankle no longer allows him to plant and push off. Overall, the run blocking has been good, but the pass protection needs to improve. Grade: B
The Ravens are ranked No. 8 in rushing defense, allowing 91.9 yards per game, and it’s hard for opponents to run inside against end Justin Madubuike and nose tackle Michael Pierce. Because of his speed and quickness off the ball, Madubuike (30 tackles) has been able to disrupt the running game, and he leads the team in sacks with 7 1/2. Pierce (20 tackles) has been a force inside occupying two blockers, but he has also been able to work off those blocks and make tackles. Pierce has also knocked down two passes. End Broderick Washington (11 tackles, three quarterback hits) doesn’t get a lot of recognition but played well at the end of last season and has continued to get better every game. The Ravens have shown depth being able to put end Brent Urban and tackle Travis Jones into the game without any significant drop-off. Grade: A
Middle linebacker Roquan Smith and weak side linebacker Patrick Queen are one of the best inside tandems in the NFL. Queen has shown an ability to make tackles in the open field this season and continues to be productive as a pass rusher (75 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks). Smith has been sensational as a leader on and off the field and leads the team in tackles with 87. The Ravens thought young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo were going to be their top pass rushers in 2023, but it’s been Kyle Van Noy (10 tackles, five sacks, six quarterback pressures) and Jadeveon Clowney (19 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits) leading the group. Both have played crucial roles in the development of some of the younger players. The Ravens have a great mix here. Grade: A
Despite several injuries, the secondary has been strong most of the season as the Ravens rank No. 2 in pass defense, allowing 170.7 yards per game. Geno Stone has been the biggest surprise at safety and has been able to cover a lot of ground on the back end. He leads the league in interceptions with six despite starting the season on the bench behind Marcus Williams. Second-year safety Kyle Hamilton has played at a Pro Bowl level and is fourth on the team in tackles with 45. His versatility has allowed him to line up against receivers outside and in the slot, and he’s been a strong pass rusher on the outside. Brandon Stephens has smoothly made the transition from safety to cornerback and has been solid in run support with 46 tackles, but he needs to be more careful playing so physical and holding receivers. Marlon Humphrey missed several games early and has been slowed by injury, but he’ll get better with more time on the field. This unit has been the biggest surprise of the season. Grade: A-
Justin Tucker has converted 16 of 19 field goal attempts with the three misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He remains the best kicker in the NFL. Jordan Stout has been excellent, averaging 48.5 yards on 37 punts, including a long of 67. Devin Duvernay has been effective as a kickoff returner, averaging 20.5 yards, but is still indecisive on punt returns. However, he seems to have gotten over the problem in recent games. The Ravens are going to need some big plays from him in the final month of the season, and they need to get stronger on the interior to try and block kicks. Grade: B-
Coach John Harbaugh seems to have gotten over being aggressive all the time and is more comfortable letting the game dictate his decisions. Mike Macdonald’s defense has been nothing short of spectacular and the Ravens do a good job of disguising their fronts. As expected, offensive coordinator Todd Monken struggled to prepare the offense early in the season, and while it has improved since, the unit still needs to be more consistent. That consistency, along with Jackson’s play, will be needed in the postseason. Harbaugh made a good decision to bring in Chuck Smith as a pass-rushing specialist and assistant, but that move should have been made years ago. The pass rush has been a problem for a long time. Grade: B+