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Mike Preston’s midseason report card: Position-by-position grades for Ravens’ 7-2 start

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The Ravens have won four straight and five of their last six games, but the second half of the season will be tougher.

Their streak includes big wins against the NFC’s top teams β€” Detroit (38-6) and Seattle (37-3) β€” but the Ravens (7-2) have to face division foes Cleveland and Cincinnati in back-to-back weeks, facing The Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams, then close the regular season in Jacksonville and San Francisco before hosting Miami and Pittsburgh.

These will be different Browns (5-3) and Bengals (5-3) teams than the Ravens beat earlier this season. Cleveland played without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who missed much of the season with a shoulder injury but returned last week, and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow lacked mobility due to a calf injury. He returned to his usual self in the midst of a four-fight winning streak.

But it’s looking to the future. Before the second half of 2023 begins, the Baltimore Sun releases its position-by-position grades for the Ravens through the first nine games.

Strategist

Lamar Jackson completed 181 of 253 passes for 1,954 yards and nine touchdowns. He has a passer rating of 100.8 and a success rate of 71.5%, best in the league. He seems to have embraced the new offense, and his decision-making and passing inside the red zone have improved significantly this season compared to the last five. He still throws behind receivers too often, but the win against Seattle was the first time he didn’t need to don a Superman cape for the Ravens to win. He was a game manager, and it showed the progression of this offense. Grade: A-

Running backs

The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack, averaging 160.3 yards per game, and have routinely beaten Gus Edwards (478 yards on 110 carries) inside to pair with burst of Justice Hill (251 yards on 58 carries). Sure, Jackson (440 yards on 84 carries) drives the ground game, but it will be interesting to see how the Ravens can fit rookie Keaton Mitchell into the rotation after he totaled 138 yards on nine carries against the Seahawks on Sunday. This will be difficult to do, but it’s a good problem to solve. Mitchell gives the offense another speedy option besides Jackson. Category B

Receivers

Jackson has done a decent job of gradually getting some touches to all of his receivers. The Ravens still need more consistency from Odell Beckham Jr. (19 catches for 218 yards) and Rashod Bateman (17 catches for 180 yards), but have gotten strong efforts all season from rookie Zay Flowers (45 catches for 472 yards) and veteran tight end. Mark Andrews (41 catches for 477 yards). Nelson Agholor (28 catches for 224 yards) was not highlighted much but still plays a complementary role. Keep an eye on No. 2 tight end Isaiah Likely, who had his best game of the season on Sunday. He could become an integral part of this offense late in the season, especially when the weather changes and the Ravens want to take a tighter two-end approach. Grade: C+

Offensive line

The main reason the Ravens have the best rushing attack in the league is because they can move defensive lines off the ball. This was not the case in recent weeks, especially inside the red zone, but it is no longer a problem. The middle of this group was dominant with center Tyler Linderbaum, right guard Kevin Zeitler and left guard John Simpson. Linderbaum played at the Pro Bowl level thanks to his speed and blocking ability up to the second level. Right tackle Morgan Moses excels at run blocking but has issues with speed rushers. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled with speed and power rushers, and it appears his surgically repaired ankle no longer allows him to plant and push. Overall, the run blocking has been good, but the pass protection needs improvement. Category B

Defensive line

The Ravens are ranked No. 8 in rushing defense, allowing 91.9 yards per game, and it’s difficult for opponents to run inside against tight end Justin Madubuike and tackle Michael Pierce. Because of his speed and quickness with the ball, Madubuike (30 tackles) has been able to disrupt the running game and he leads the team in sacks with 7 1/2. Pierce (20 tackles) was a force on the interior occupying two blockers, but he was also able to work on those blocks and make tackles. Pierce also picked off two passes. End Broderick Washington (11 tackles, three quarterback hits) doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but he played well late last season and continued to improve with each game. The Ravens showed depth by being able to shut down Brent Urban and face Travis Jones in the game without any significant drop-off. Grade: A

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Roquan Smith and weakside linebacker Patrick Queen are one of the best inside tandems in the NFL. Queen has shown the ability to make tackles on the field this season and continues to be productive as a passer (75 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks). Smith has been sensational as a leader on and off the field and leads the team in tackles with 87. The Ravens thought young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo were going to be their best passers in 2023, but it’s Kyle Van Noy (10 tackles, five sacks, six quarterback pressures) and Jadeveon Clowney (19 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits) lead the group. Both have played a crucial role in the development of some of the younger players. The Ravens have a good mix here. Grade: A

Secondary

Despite several injuries, the secondary has been solid for most of the season as the Ravens rank second in pass defense, allowing 170.7 yards per game. Geno Stone was the biggest surprise at safety and managed to cover a lot of ground on the backfield. He leads the league in interceptions with six despite starting the season on the bench behind Marcus Williams. Second-year safety Kyle Hamilton has played at the Pro Bowl level and is fourth on the team in tackles with 45. His versatility has allowed him to line up against receivers on the outside and in the machine. underneath, and he was a good passer outside. . Brandon Stephens made the smooth transition from safety to cornerback and was solid in his run support with 46 tackles, but he needs to be more careful playing so physical and holding receivers back. Marlon Humphrey missed several games early and was slowed by injury, but he will improve with more time on the field. This unit was the biggest surprise of the season. Grade: A-

Special teams

Justin Tucker converted 16 of 19 field goal attempts, with all three misses coming from more than 50 yards. He remains the best kicker in the NFL. Jordan Stout has been excellent, averaging 48.5 yards on 37 punts, including a long of 67. Devin Duvernay has been effective as a kickoff returner, averaging 20.5 yards, but is still undecided on punt returns. However, he seems to have overcome the problem in recent matches. The Ravens will need big plays from him in the final month of the season, and they will need to get stronger inside to try and block kicks. Category B-

management

Coach John Harbaugh seems to have stopped being aggressive all the time and is more comfortable letting the game dictate his decisions. Mike Macdonald’s defense has been nothing short of spectacular and the Ravens are doing a good job of hiding their fronts. As expected, offensive coordinator Todd Monken struggled to get the offense ready to start the season, and while it has improved since then, the unit still needs to be more cohesive. That consistency, along with Jackson’s play, will be needed in the postseason. Harbaugh made the right decision to bring in Chuck Smith as a pass rush specialist and assistant, but that decision should have been made years ago. The pass rush has been a problem for a long time. Grade: B+

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