The Baltimore Ravens are off to a promising 2-1 start as Week 3 of the NFL season comes to a close. And with their sole loss coming by only a point in a non-confernce game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens seem to be set up to make a good run at a fifth consecutive season in the playoffs.
Amazingly, the Ravens will play a primetime game at home for the third time in four games when they take on the Cleveland Browns this Thursday. The Ravens will be favored against the division rival Browns, though the game could still be hard as the winless Browns will be fighting for their pride.
Three weeks is early on in the NFL, but still it's fair to say that a lot has already happened. With more and more clarity being provided each week, it's getting easier to gain an accurate picture as to to how each Raven's stock is doing.
With so much seeming to change from week to week, let's take a look at some of the stocks for key Ravens players going into Week 4.
Ray Rice: Stock Up
After an ugly offseason where he wasn't paid until the latest possible deadline, the Ravens have finally affirmed the value of Ray Rice to their team.
His loyalty to the team was rewarded with a new five-year contract worth nearly $40 million. This contract was in the neighborhoods of other elite running backs such as Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy,which demonstrates the importance of Rice to the Ravens offense.
Through three games, Rice has rewarded their trust with 268 rushing yards on 48 attempts. He's also added his regular contributions in the receiving game, where he's second on the team in receptions with 14. His 127 receiving yards rank him third on the team, showing that even with the forward strides the Ravens passing game has taken this season, Rice is still a crucial player in the offense.
Sunday's win against the Patriots was an a example of a typical Rice game in 2012. He had 20 rushes for 105 yards and a seven-yard touchdown run. He also contributed five catches for 49 yards.
With a Cleveland Browns team coming up that ranks 22nd against the run, Rice could be in for a big day on Thursday. Especially when considering the exhausting shootout against the Patriots, it would not be surprising if the Ravens try to slow things down and ease out the victory by grinding the clock with Rice.
Pass Defense: Stock Down
What was supposed to be a strength for the team may actually turn out to be a weakness. Through three games, the Ravens are ranked 28th against the pass as they are giving up a whopping 289.7 passing yards a game.
These are clearly not standard numbers for a Ravens team, especially a team that on paper looked stacked at cornerback coming into the 2012 season. So far only Lardarius Webb has really lived up to the billing of being a shutdown cornerback. He's done a good job in containing receivers such as A.J. Green in Week 1.
The same cannot be said for Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, who have struggled immensely this season. Williams' stock is pummeling to an all-time low after he was repeatedly targeted by New England. Brandon Lloyd had his best game of the season so far as most of his 108 yards came against Williams.
Yet despite Williams' struggles this season, Smith still remains behind him on the depth chart. For Smith it's mostly alternating good and bad, as sometimes he'll make unnecessary mistakes like failing to tackle someone who is running a simple route. He does have some upside, though, as demonstrated by his containment of Deon Branch, who only had two catches for 11 yards.
Joe Flacco: Stock Up
Joe Flacco seemed to undergo a ton of criticism this offseason, which is, after all, somewhat warranted after he said that he thinks he is the best quarterback in the league. Many people thought it was a crazy statement for Flacco to make, and it was one that needed a lot of backing up.
Well, Flacco has actually done his part and backed up the statement so far. He has thrown for 913 passing yards, which is the second most in the NFL. His passer rating for the season is 101.9 and his worst passing game is 232 yards, which is still a pretty respectable number.
He's also put together a clutch game-winning drive against the Patriots, while leading the team to victory in a comeback against the Eagles. With the pass defense's current struggles, Flacco may have quite a few games where he's going to have to throw the ball a lot. So far, he's proven to be up for the challenge.
Ed Dickson: Stock Down
What should the Ravens do at tight end?
It's now official that Dennis Pitta is the starting tight end on the Ravens depth chart. This leaves former starter Ed Dickson on the bench, and while Pitta's targets only seem to increase, Dickson's have been decreasing. It's a surprising result for a team that wants to frequently play in two-tight-end formations.
While both Dickson and Pitta suffered preseason injuries, it seems Dickson's have affected him more and contributed to his falling stock. His shoulder injury kept him out of most of the preseason games and they've been slow to bring him back. Against the Pats, he was a non-factor with only two catches for five yards.
Dickson will likely find a way to get more integrated in the offense as the season goes on. The trouble is that his days as a starter seem over now that Pitta has emerged as one of Flacco's favorite targets. Between the success of Pita and his tendency to drop some passes, Dickson will likely see less targets than he did in 2011.
Dannell Ellerbe: Stock Up
Formerly stuck in Harbaugh's dog house, Dannell Ellerbe has had a rough career that has included several opportunities where he failed to lock up a starting job. Yet now he may be making another surge to overtake Jameel McClain for the starting middle linebacker position alongside Ray Lewis.
Ellerbe led the team in sacks against the Patriots with 1.5. He also had two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss.
With Ellerbe now becoming a regular contributor on defense, he might be able to earn a place as a starter. We can expect to see more of him in the future especially in running situations. His seven tackles were a big part of the reason why the Pats averaged less than three rushing yards a carry.