Mike Preston's report card after the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints

Quarterback: Joe Flacco seemed to get better as the game went on. He consistently found receivers across the middle as he showed patience and waited for plays to develop. There were times Flacco could have tucked the ball and run for yardage instead of just throwing the ball away outside the pocket. Flacco would get fewer passes batted down at the line of scrimmage if he either stepped up in the pocket or took one step to the side to avoid the rush. His receivers dropped a lot of passes. He did play well in crunch time. Grade: A-

Running backs: The Ravens don’t have a star running back, but they have enough solid players to make the ground game somewhat effective. The problem is that the Ravens can pop runs for 9 or 10 yards, but then have several consecutive attempts on which they don’t gain any. Alex Collins runs hard and gives great effort, but he jukes too much, No. 3 running back Gus Edwards is the downhill-type runner the Ravens prefer, but he isn’t going to break any long runs. This is an average group at best. Grade: C

Offensive line: This was a patchwork group as the Ravens were without starting left guard Alex Lewis and starting right tackle James Hurst. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., a rookie, had a strong game as far as run blocking but struggled in pass protection. The Ravens tried to help him with a couple of different slide protections and by having Flacco dump the ball off early. Backup guard Bradley Bozeman, also a rookie, had a decent performance and played as well as Lewis has this season. Grade: C+

Receivers: Flacco worked the middle of the field with John Brown and Willie Snead IV, and the Ravens also got a strong outside game from Michael Crabtree. Brown had a 56-yard reception at the end of the first half to help set up a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass in the final minute. The Ravens also used their receivers well on jet sweeps, which became big gainers in the running game. Tight end Mark Andrews started the season off slow but has become a big weapon for Flacco in the past couple of games. But in crunch time, the Ravens dropped too many passes, even though they rebounded with a strong effort at the end of the game. Grade: C

Defensive line: The Ravens were dominant at times up front and got good penetration when the Saints were forced to run the ball when they didn’t have the wind at their back. Tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce got penetration, and so did ends Chris Wormley and Brent Urban. The problems occurred when the Saints opened up the offense, especially late in the third and fourth quarters. The Ravens didn’t get much pressure on quarterback Drew Brees, and this unit was gassed at the end of the game. Grade: C+

Linebackers: Terrell Suggs kept coming up big and had an outstanding game. The Ravens also got some pressure from Za’Darius Smith. Second-year outside linebacker Tim Williams, a designated pass rusher, made some plays in run defense. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley made some big tackles that stopped what could have been big gains for the Saints. Grade: B+

Secondary: There was speculation that the Ravens could get by without starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but the Saints went after Jimmy Smith several times, and he hurt the Ravens. Brees was relentless in attacking the Ravens and didn’t back off, even when the Saints got the lead in the fourth quarter. Grade: C+

Special teams: Justin Tucker had a field goal and Sam Koch turned in his usual reliable game. The Ravens won the field position game as far as coverage on punts, but they needed a big play on a punt or kickoff return and didn’t get one. Tucker missed the extra-point attempt that would have tied the game. That was heartbreaking. No one feels worse than Tucker, but he got a lot of support from his teammates. Grade: C

Coaching: In the past, when the Ravens have played a good game, they have rebounded with a dud, but they were tough, competitive and prepared to play the Saints. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had a couple of bad calls but kept the Saints off balance by using a good mix of passes and runs. Don “Wink” Martindale was just as successful on defense and he kept pressure on Brees, but there were times when the Ravens just didn’t make the play. Despite losing two starters on the offensive line and one starting cornerback because of injury, the Ravens played well. Grade: B+

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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