Mike Preston's early grades for the 2011 Ravens

After four games, the Ravens are in great position. Few expected them to have lost only one game with such dramatic changes at the offensive skill positions during the offseason. The defense has been dominant, and there are already comparisons being made to the unit that won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. Statistics, though, don't show how both of those defenses took away an opponent's desire to play against the Ravens. In 2000, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was so ferocious that running backs such as Jerome Bettis, Corey Dillon and Eddie George quit against the Ravens. He took their hearts. In the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this year, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was about to crush running back Rashard Mendenhall so hard that Mendenhall closed his eyes before impact. By the end of the third quarter, the Steelers' offensive line had called it a night. That's intimidation. After the first half against New York on Sunday night, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had already shown a beaten spirit and receiver Plaxico Burress had quit. The difference in the Ravens defense, compared with a year ago, is that first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is much more aggressive than predecessor Greg Mattison. There have been a few surprises, such as defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Cary Williams, but it's basically the same personnel. On offense, however, the Ravens have struggled, and two of their top players, quarterback Joe Flacco and right tackle Michael Oher, need to become more consistent. And that also can be said about both the passing and running games. But it appears the Ravens are going in the right direction heading into a big game Oct. 16 against the Houston Texans. Before we get too far ahead, though, we'll take a look back and grade the Ravens through the first four games. Click here for a text version of Preston's grades.
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