Baltimore Ravens: 5 Underrated Players Who Stepped Up in 2011
The Ravens have had a quality season so far in 2011, and a significant part of that success is a result of under-the-radar players stepping up in a big way.
Going into the season, the secondary and the pass rush were considered major areas of need, and fans and analysts alike did not think the Ravens had done enough to address those needs. Pass defense was expected to be an issue for the Ravens.
This has not been the case. Several pass rushers and defensive backs have played tremendous football en route to the Ravens having one of the top pass defenses in the league.
Several other players also gave big contributions to the Ravens successes this season. Here is a list of the top five underrated players on the Baltimore Ravens.
At the beginning of 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers had 3rd-and-19 with the game tied and only two minutes left in the game. Antonio Brown got behind Lardarius Webb for a 58-yard catch, and the game was over.
What a difference an offseason makes. Webb has gone from the goat of the playoff loss to the team's best cover corner. For the first time in years, the Ravens have a corner they can feel comfortable matching up against the best receivers in the league.
Webb has been incredible for the Ravens, and when he was hobbled against the Chargers, his absence was strongly felt. He's the best corner on a top-five pass defense, and he plays both the run and the pass well. Webb deserves to be mentioned among the top corners in the league.
Pernell McPhee is the only new addition to the Ravens pass rush for 2011, but what an addition he has been. He is second on the Ravens in sacks with six, and he also has numerous pressures.
McPhee flew under the radar in the NFL draft, falling to the end of the fifth round. All the teams that passed on him are certainly regretting that now, after he has become one of the best rookie pass rushers in the NFL.
McPhee plays with unmatched heart and hustle. He's a great fit in the Ravens defense, and he deserves more credit for his contributions to the Ravens fierce pass rush.
The biggest member of the Ravens defense has ironically flown under the radar, but his contributions have been as huge as his frame.
The Ravens made clear that Terrence Cody was expected to produce in 2011. He responded by being in the best shape of his career, and his hard work has paid off. With Cody eating up blockers, the Ravens have one of the top run defenses in the NFL, and no running back has been able to consistently gain yardage.
Cody is truly a special run-stopper, and he could help Ray Lewis and the rest of the Ravens linebackers to enjoy big seasons both in 2011 and in the future.
With Dennis Pitta, the stats truly tell the tale. He only has 34 receptions so far this season, but 25 of those have been for first downs. When Joe Flacco needs a big first down, he often looks Pitta's way.
Pitta tends to step up in the biggest situations. Week 9 in Pittsburgh, Pitta had one of his best games of the season with five receptions, all for first downs. Pitta's reliable hands played a huge role in the Ravens' ability to move the ball against the Steelers vaunted defense.
While Pitta doesn't necessarily rack up huge receiving numbers, he makes big catches at big times, and his habit of extending drives has made him a unique weapon for the Ravens.
Most NFL fans would have difficulty naming a Ravens inside linebacker not named Ray Lewis, but Jameel McClain is proving that he is an excellent player in his own right.
The Ravens have a history of producing solid linebackers opposite Lewis, with Jamie Sharper, Ed Hartwell and Bart Scott all finding success with the Ravens. McClain is simply the latest in a long line of solid Ravens linebackers.
With McClain manning one linebacker spot, the Ravens have had one of the top run defenses in the NFL, and when Lewis went down with a toe injury, McClain stepped up in a big way. Due in large part to McClain's play, the Ravens defense did not miss a beat while Lewis was on the sideline.
With Lewis in the twilight of his career, the Ravens will surely be thinking about finding their next great linebacker. Despite his lack of media exposure, Jameel McClain might just be that linebacker.