THE RAVENS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: When the Ravens traded veteran Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason, it put the onus on 2011 second-round pick Torrey Smith to step up and become the go-to guy in the passing game. Smith has more than responded to the challenge. He’s among the receiving yardage leaders in the NFL with 435 yards on 21 catches, averaging a healthy 20.7 yards per reception. Smith has been consistent all season, with at least 85 yards receiving in each of Baltimore’s first four games. He’s coming off his best performance yet, as he caught five passes for 166 yards and a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills Sunday.
THE RAVENS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: Unfortunately for the Ravens, Smith has been one of the only bright spots on offense so far. In the receiving corps, no one else has really stepped up and veteran tight end Dallas Clark, who clearly has lost a step, is the second-leading receiver. The loss of starting tight end Dennis Pitta, who is on injured reserve with a designation to return after sustaining a hip injury in training camp, has been felt, in large part because backup Ed Dickson has had a major problem with dropped passes. The running game also has been nonexistent, with no Ravens player averaging more than 3.0 yards per attempt. There’s hope in that department because of the presence of star running back Ray Rice, but he’ll need more help from an offensive line that has struggled so far. It’s been bad enough, in fact, that the Ravens this week acquired former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe to step in at tackle.
THE RAVENS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: The Ravens rank in the middle of the pack in most defensive categories, but their numbers are skewed by the beating they took in the NFL opener against the Denver Broncos. Since then, Baltimore has been pretty solid on defense, both against the run and the pass. Baltimore is giving up 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, a figure that ranks sixth in the league. The key for the pass defense has been the pass rush, which has produced 13 sacks so far. Veteran Terrell Suggs is off to a tremendous start, with a sack in each of the first four games.
THE RAVENS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: Despite the departures of mainstays Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens remain pretty solid on defense. There are standouts at every level of the defense with nose tackle Haloti Ngata, outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Suggs, and cornerback Lardarius Webb. There is no apparent glaring weakness on this Baltimore defense. Baltimore has given eight touchdown passes this season, but seven of those came from Peyton Manning in that forgettable (for them) opener. In the last three games, the Ravens have allowed an average of 291 total yards per game. If anything, Baltimore has shown early in the season to be much more vulnerable on defense on the road (36 points, 430 yards per game) than at home (7.5 points, 261.5 yards).
THE RAVENS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens traditionally have been very good in the return game, and this year is no different. In their 30-9 victory against Houston in Week 3, Tandon Doss returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. Thanks to that return, the Ravens lead the NFL in punt return average. There are three players on the roster with a punt or kickoff return for a touchdown on his resume, with Jacoby Jones and Lardarius Webb being the other two. Jones was selected to the Pro Bowl as a returner last season, but he sustained a knee injury in the opener when a teammate backed into him as he was getting ready to field a punt and hasn’t played since. Truth is, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s returning kicks for the Ravens; they’re productive regardless.
THE RAVENS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens have been pretty solid in all aspects of special teams this season, with punter Sam Koch posting an impressive 42.1 net average so far and Baltimore not allowing a punt or kickoff return longer than 30 yards yet. The only minor hiccup so far has been the work of kicker Justin Tucker, who missed his only two field goal attempts (from 50 and 44 yards) in a 14-6 victory against Cleveland in Week 2. That came after Tucker was a remarkable 30-for-33, including 4-for-4 from 50 yards or beyond, as a rookie in 2012.