First Quarter Report Card: Ravens Among the Elite, but with Room To Grow

Geoff PeckhamContributor IOctober 7, 2009

BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 27:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens huddles with the offense during the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 34-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

It’s been feared for years; the possibility of the Baltimore Ravens establishing an offense to go along with their dominating defense that has been a staple in Charm City for a decade.

One-fourth into the 2009 season: fears realized. The Ravens have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL right now. And here’s a scarier thought: The Ravens still have plenty of room for improvement.

Dominating wins over bad teams like Cleveland and Kansas City and a close-but-crucial victory over San Diego have the Ravens tied for the division lead with Cincinnati. And despite some costly turnovers and penalties, the Ravens had a chance to beat New England late—no easy task in Foxboro.

There’s still plenty of football to be played. But Baltimore has set a tone that, barring injuries, will lead it to the postseason for the second consecutive year.

With that said, here are some first quarter superlatives to reflect on, and some prognostications on what is to come for one of the AFC’s top teams:

MVP: Joe Flacco

Easy choice. In only his second year in the league, Flacco has taken control on the offense. He’s hitting all of his targets and has eight touchdowns on the season. That’s more than half his total from a year ago.

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He’s getting an early nod for MVP of the league from some experts but is being overshadowed by the likes of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Adrian Peterson. Regardless, he’s keeping the Ravens in games all on his own. Even though the last drive of the Patriots game didn’t end well, other game-winners will.

Early Season Surprise: Kelley Washington

The seventh-year receiver had exactly one reception in 2007 and 2008 when he was with the Patriots. He has 16 in 2009, including one for a touchdown. Initially viewed as a special teams player and receiver for depth, he’s established a bit of a rapport with Joe Flacco and is thriving in the slot position. While he isn’t likely to claim a starting role anytime soon, he is contributing much more than anyone would have anticipated.

Comeback Player: Willis McGahee

You’ve got to feel good for Willis McGahee. After being marred by injury in 2008 and maybe being a little out of shape, he’s come roaring back this year to rank near the top in touchdowns so far. McGahee has rushed for five scores and caught two more from Joe Flacco. He only had seven touchdowns period last year. He’s adjusting well to his role on the team and appears to be in head coach John Harbaugh’s good graces this season, which may not have always been the case a year ago.

Most Room for Improvement: The Secondary

It’s been hit on plenty of times before, but this group is giving up too many plays. Domonique Foxworth needs to prove why the Ravens made him a multi-millionaire in the offseason. Ed Reed needs to return to form, as does Dawan Landry.

To their credit, they’ve faced some touch receiving cores and and quality quarterbacks, but the rest of the season is full of gunslingers who can beat the Ravens through the air. If Baltimore wants to contend, the DBs need to play better.

Best moment of the season (so far): Ray Lewis stops Darren Sproles in the backfield on fourth down

Another easy one. It won the game. It reminded everyone how good Lewis is. It contributed to the tone Baltimore is setting.

Overall, it’s a good time to be a Ravens fan right now. But it can be better. We’ll see soon if it will be.

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