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Mike Preston’s midseason report card: Position-by-position grades for Ravens’ 5-3 start

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Most teams in the NFL begin their serious playoff run in December, but the Ravens should start Monday when they play the Saints in New Orleans.

Of the Ravens’ final nine opponents, six have losing records. Among them are the 2-6 Jaguars, Panthers and Steelers. Cincinnati and Atlanta, both 4-4, are the best of the bunch and they’ll face just two franchise-caliber quarterbacks in the Bengals’ Joe Burrow and Denver’s Russell Wilson.

The Ravens (5-3), though, have their own problems with three fourth-quarter meltdowns in losses to Miami, Buffalo and the New York Giants, but this schedule should be friendly enough for them to win 10 or 11 games and possibly the AFC North.

But before the second half of 2022 begins, The Baltimore Sun gives out its position-by-position grades for the Ravens through the first eight games.

Quarterback

It’s been an up-and-down season so far for Lamar Jackson. At times, he’s performed like the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. At times, he’s made poor decisions and thrown inaccurate passes that have led to losses. Forget his stats — 148-for-235 (63%) with 1,635 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions and 75 carries for 553 yards and two touchdowns — the team’s formula for success is to allow Jackson to attempt somewhere between 15 to 35 passes a game. When Jackson struggles to throw, the Ravens should just give him a green light to run and take the ball out of his hands. Grade: B-

Running backs

The Ravens appear to have found their identity again with Gus Edwards (27 carries, 131 yards, two touchdowns) back in the starting lineup after missing the first six games recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last preseason. The Ravens missed his power and that body lean; he seldom gets stopped for losses. But with Edwards and J.K. Dobbins (35 carries, 121 yards, one touchdown), there are still questions about how long they will last. Dobbins is out for at least another month with recurring knee problems and Edwards suffered a hamstring injury on against Tampa Bay, though coach John Harbaugh said it’s considered mild and he has a chance to play Monday night against the Saints. Kenyan Drake (49 carries, 251 yards, one touchdown) is a solid replacement and Justice Hill (27 carries, 179 yards) provides speed and a burst on the edge, but this offense needs a stud at running back. Right now, the Ravens have two in Edwards and Dobbins, neither of whom are completely healthy. Grade: B-

Offensive line

It’s no coincidence the offensive line has improved, especially with run blocking, since Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley returned against the Bengals on Oct. 9. Stanley has played at a high level despite missing 31 games since his original ankle injury in November 2020 but his presence also gives this group a mental lift. Left guard Ben Powers is having the best season of his four-year career. Right tackle Morgan Moses excels at run blocking and right guard Kevin Zeitler has performed better than any of his linemates. Rookie center Kyle Linderbaum struggled with a big nose guard playing over top of him on Thursday, but he gets into the second level and cuts off linebackers. The Ravens, though, still need to upgrade in pass protection, something that wasn’t an issue earlier in the season. Grade: B

Receivers

The Ravens have gotten only average production out of this group but can get more with more creativity from offensive coordinator Greg Roman and accuracy from Jackson. Reigning All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews (42 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns) is Jackson’s go-to receiver and has had another strong year, but the Ravens need to incorporate speedy Devin Duvernay (24 catches, 313 yards, three touchdowns) more as both a receiver and running back. Second-year player Rashod Bateman would be more effective if he could stay healthy — he’s out for a few weeks after aggravating a foot injury last week against Tampa Bay — and tight end Isaiah Likely and Demarcus Robinson have become options for Jackson. Jackson, though, has to be better at reading the outside of the field so Robinson can become more of a downfield weapon, and Roman has to learn how to use more rubs and combination and clearing routes instead of just allowing Jackson to throw 30 times in a half like he did against Tampa Bay. Grade: C

Defensive line

This group has been dominant, which is a little surprising because the Ravens lost nose guard Michael Pierce with a torn biceps in Week 3. But his replacement, rookie Travis Jones, has played reasonably well with nine tackles, including a sack. The big thing for Jones was getting into playing shape. Justin Madubuike is having the best season of his three-year career with 22 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks, and he has slowed a lot of running plays with his quick penetration off the snap. End Calais Campbell has been solid and on occasion dominant with 21 tackles and three sacks. The question is how long can Campbell, 36, hold up playing so many snaps? Tackle Broderick Washington played well during the preseason and has carried that over into the regular season with 18 tackles, and veteran Brent Urban has been able to give all of the starters some relief at various points. The Ravens have been solid against the run and have improved versus the pass compared to the previous three seasons. Grade: B

Linebackers

Inside linebacker Patrick Queen leads the Ravens in tackles with 53 to go with 3 1/2 sacks but he seems to be more effective when the Ravens allow him to run straight ahead to crash a gap or on some type of blitz. The same can be said about Malik Harrison, who has 27 tackles. Neither are shock-and-shed linebackers from a previous era even though Harrison is 6-3 and 259 pounds. The defensive line does a good job of holding off opposing linemen, but the Ravens don’t have the proper guys to clean up yet, though that might change with the acquisition of star inside linebacker Roquan Smith. The outside linebacker play has been solid and at times spectacular in pass rushes. Justin Houston, playing on a limited basis, has six sacks and Odafe Oweh has one but 27 tackles. The outside linebackers, though, struggle to hold the edge, especially Jason Pierre-Paul. This group will get a boost when Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo get back on the field once they fully recover from torn Achilles tendons. Bowser might play against the Saints. Grade: C+

Secondary

The Ravens need to get a pass rush because the secondary is extremely vulnerable, especially with safety Marcus Williams out for an extended time with a wrist injury. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters contributes a lot but opposing teams are targeting him because he appears to have lost a step. Marlon Humphrey plays well on the inside, but a lack of ball skills and speed makes him a liability outside. Between Humphrey and Peters, though, they are cunning enough to hide some deficiencies and both play hard. Safety Chuck Clark has played well and is second on the team in tackles with 51. Geno Stone, who has stepped in admirably for Williams, has been solid and tackles well. Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top draft choice, has struggled at times but seems to play better near the line of scrimmage than on the back end. Rookie Demarion “Pepe” Williams has played well as the No. 3 cornerback and the Ravens have gotten more out of him than backup cornerback Brandon Stephens. Grade: C

Special teams

The Ravens have perhaps the best kicking game in the NFL. Kicker Justin Tucker has converted on 16 of 18 field goal attempts and both misses were from beyond 50 yards. Tucker, though, is five of seven on field goals from 50-plus, and has hit on one from 58 yards. Rookie Jordan Stout has averaged 48.9 yards on 25 punts so far, putting nine inside the 20-yard line. Duvernay doubles as both the punt and kickoff returner, averaging 31.9 yards per kickoff and 15.1 on punt returns. He also returned the opening kickoff against Miami 103 yards for a touchdown. Grade: A

Coaching

This team is a work in progress. Harbaugh has been patient while trying to work injured players back onto the field, more so than in previous years. Defensively, the Ravens have struggled to keep offenses out of the end zone in the fourth quarter. The four fourth-quarter touchdowns allowed to Miami was an embarrassment. Until two weeks ago, it was hard to tell if the Ravens were a running or passing team. It remains to be seen how much potential this team has, but it’s certainly more than they have shown. Grade: B-

Week 9

Ravens at Saints

Monday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3

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