During the season Ravens columnist Mike Preston graded the Ravens' progress after each game. Today, Preston offers his final grades for the season by position, including the coaching staff.
Joe Flacco continued to improve on the field physically, but mentally there wasn't as much growth. Flacco was streaky. When he was hot, he could carry the team. When he wasn't, the Ravens struggled. Flacco still has to get better at his progressions, reads, ball security and ball placement. He is fulfilling some of the promise, but there are still doubts about his ability to take himself and the Ravens to the next level. He has to become more consistent.
Halfback Ray Rice got off to a slow start because of a foot injury early in the season, and the ground game never found its rhythm. Teams concentrated on stopping Rice. He was still effective as an all-around threat, but as a pure runner, backup Willis McGahee should have gotten more touches. Le'Ron McClain had a good season as a lead blocker, but it would have been nice to use him in the fourth quarter if the Ravens had been able to gain or maintain more leads. The offensive line didn't keep this group healthy.
Two years ago, this group had potential to be one of the best in the NFL, but it regressed. The Ravens couldn't knock other teams off the ball and hold blocks. Pass protection down the stretch was poor. The Ravens had several players out of position because of the injury to left tackle Jared Gaither, which the Ravens never overcame. Right guard Chris Chester was inconsistent, and veteran center Matt Birk showed signs of aging late in the season. Left tackle Michael Oher gets overextended too much and might be better on the right side. Right tackle Marshal Yanda played reasonably well but is limited athletically and a better fit at guard. Left guard Ben Grubbs was the Ravens' best lineman but has yet to play up to his first-round draft status.
The Ravens' production was limited, not because of defenses, but because of scheme. Anquan Boldin had a productive season but was underused as far as getting him passes in the middle or between the numbers. Derrick Mason was the team's most consistent receiver, but he disappeared in the postseason. It's a shame the Ravens couldn't figure out how to use the speed of Donte' Stallworth, and they should have used T.J. Houshmandzadeh more in the slot than outside. Tight end Todd Heap had an excellent season, and if it weren't for a hamstring injury that forced him out of several games, would have become Flacco's most dependable weapon.
The Ravens had one weakness, and they got that squared away by late in the season. By the end of the year, the Ravens were getting a pass rush inside. Tackle Haloti Ngata was outstanding and became a complete player as a run stopper and pass rusher. End Cory Redding, after a slow start, had a very strong finish. The Ravens should be able to get more out of reserve players such as tackles Terrence Cody and Brandon McKinney and end Paul Kruger next season. It will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with veteran tackle Kelly Gregg.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs became a feared pass rusher again and played well in big games. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain started off slowly but developed an impressive ability to run sideline-to-sideline. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson had a slow start because of a shoulder injury but played well against the run late in the season. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis had his ups and downs during the season but stepped up his game heading into the final stretch. The Ravens wasted reserve linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. He should have played more. The Ravens have to do a better job in pass coverage (deeper drops).
This was the most surprising unit on the team. Cornerback Chris Carr was the best player in the secondary, and by the end of the season opposing teams started throwing away from him. Cornerback Josh Wilson was a pleasant surprise and more physical than expected. Backup cornerback Lardarius Webb came on strong as far as run support but still was overaggressive at times. Safety Ed Reed isn't the player he used to be as far as being physical and having a presence around the line of scrimmage, but he still plays an excellent center field. Safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski needed to play more. Safety Dawan Landry needed to play less.
Kicker Billy Cundiff tied an NFL record for touchbacks and earned a Pro Bowl appearance. Sam Koch was just as steady, and among the league leaders in punts inside the 20. Webb showed signs of being a dangerous returner on kickoffs and punts, but the Ravens need to find full-time returners next season. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Prescott Burgess and Nakamura played well in kick coverage.
The Ravens had a good record, but they still can't get over the hump as far as getting to the Super Bowl. Despite the influx of new receivers, the Ravens didn't have a strong passing game, and there was a lot of miscommunication on offense. On defense, the Ravens got better as the season went on, but this group failed to deliver in the crunch several times. Head coach John Harbaugh has made a wise move by becoming more involved with the offense, but it came too late.