1st quarter Ravens report card

The NFL season is only at the quarter pole, but it has been a great start for the Ravens.

They aren't blowing teams out, but overall, they are in great shape after playing three of their first four games on the road against three of the better defensive teams in the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets, and two of the most physical in the Jets and the Steelers.

In fact, it would have been satisfying if the Ravens had been 2-2 at this point.

There are skeptics who will say the Ravens barely beat the Cleveland Browns and they have yet to play a quality quarterback who will test their suspect secondary. Or they will point out that the Ravens don't have a strong running game yet and their passing game still isn't high-powered enough to carry the offense.

Maybe that's all true, but the season is still young. The bottom line is the Ravens are in first place in the AFC North and they are one of the three best teams in the NFL, along with the Steelers and Jets.

And they've done it without ProBowl safety Ed Reed (hip), and starting right tackle Jared Gaither (back), who could really make this offensive line a lot better.

It's hard to predict what will happen during the 2010 season, but the Ravens have a lot of potential, and barring major injuries, this team should get a lot better.

Enough to win a Super Bowl?

Let's not get that carried away. Remember, we're still calling the Ravens "a work in progress." That answer will come sometime in December.

But as the Ravens begin the second quarter, we give out our grades for the first four games.

Quarterback: C+

Joe Flacco had two bad starts but now has two fourth-quarter comebacks. If he can become consistent in his mechanics, he can have a really strong season. Flacco has to improve his audibilizing out of bad plays and his going through his progressions. The Pittsburgh game might have been a defining moment in his career.

Running backs: C

Injuries and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's play selection have limited Ray Rice. Opposing teams have also game-planned for Rice more in 2010. Backup Willis McGahee turned in a solid performance in Pittsburgh, and the Ravens need to get fullback Le'Ron McClain more touches. McClain has performed well as a lead blocker.

Receivers: A-

As long as they can get along, this could be one of the best groups in the NFL. The Ravens have enough talent to work all areas of the field, and it's hard to find a team that can cover the trio of starters. Add tight end Todd Heap, who is having a strong season, and the Ravens have enough weapons to beat any team. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason have had strong starts.

Offensive line: B-

Tackles Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda had strong games at Pittsburgh, and maybe that's a sign that both are finally settling in. Center Matt Birk and guards Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester could use more explosion at the point of attack, and this group might have adjusted after allowing too much pressure on Flacco in the first two games.

Defensive line: B

Tackle Haloti Ngata might be the best in the NFL at his position. He is having the kind of season other linemen dream about. Fellow tackle Kelly Gregg is solid but not as consistent as in previous years. The Ravens are finally getting some of the younger players, like Paul Kruger and Terrence Cody, playing experience, which could help at the end of the season. A lot of average players here, but Ngata has been exceptional.

Linebackers: B+

Veteran Ray Lewis still makes plays and leads the team. All things considered, he is having another strong season. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is playing extremely well and drawing a lot of double teams. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson has played well against the run but has been slowed by injuries. Weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain is the fastest of the bunch and getting better every week.

Secondary: A

OK, no quarterbacks have tested them, but they have played better than anyone expected. The coverage by the cornerbacks has been tight, and safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura have filled in well for Reed and complement fellow safety Dawan Landry. With the exception of Nakamura, these guys could do a better job of tackling.

Special teams: B-

It appears the Ravens made the right pick at kicker, especially when it comes to kickoffs. Punter Sam Koch has been his usual reliable self. The coverage units have played well after lapses in the first two games, but the Ravens aren't getting much out of their return game, especially on punts.

mike.preston@baltsun.com Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM.



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