Mike Preston's Ravens' defensive third-quarter report card

Defensive line: Few teams run against the Ravens anymore. It’s nearly impossible to run in the middle because tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce dominate inside. Both are fully capable of taking on double teams but also penetrating into gaps and making tackles. Ends Brent Urban and Chris Wormley don’t make the big plays that stand out, but they are consistent and seem to wear the opposition down at the end of games. The Ravens still need to get more of a pass rush from this group, but overall the major goal has been accomplished and that’s to stop the run. Grade: B

Linebackers: Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley has played well this season but it’s like he is missing that one final step to greatness where he can dominate most games. Mosley leads the Ravens in tackles with 77. Strong side linebacker Matthew Judon has been steady and appears to have cut down on the stupid penalties. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith has 33 tackles, including 6.5 sacks, and weak side linebacker Kenny Young, a rookie, has been a pleasant surprise with 45 tackles and his ability to cover. Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs still has a presence in the game, and if the Ravens give him enough rest, he could be a factor late in the season for the first time in years. Grade: B-

Secondary: In the first half of the season, the Ravens cornerbacks picked their times when they would be aggressive. But in the last three games, they have pressed hard at the line of scrimmage, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young have been aggressive. Humphrey seems to have recovered from early-season injuries, and Smith has played his way back into top form from an Achilles’ heel injury and four-game suspension. Veteran safety Eric Weddle is in the same category as Suggs. The more rest he gets in games, the better he will be down the stretch. The Ravens need to continue to be aggressive. Grade: B+

Special teams: These units were costing the Ravens in the first half of the season, but now they have made contributions in the three straight wins. The Ravens have steady return players in Cyrus Jones (12.2 punt return average) and both Chris Moore (22.3) and Ty Montgomery (21.0) on kickoff returns. Of course, the team has the best kicking duo in the league in kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch. Rookie linebacker Chris Board has eight tackles to lead all special teamers, while safeties Chuck Clark and Anthony Levine Sr. each have six. Grade: B

Coaching: Despite the Ravens offense looking like something one would see on the high school level, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for building around his talent after Flacco went down with the hip injury. The defense seemed lost after three straight defeats earlier this season, but the poise and communication are better. It remains to be seen if the Ravens can get into the postseason, but Harbaugh at least has them in position. That’s a plus at this point in the season. Grade: B

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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