The Ravens are 2-2 and in a 3-way tie for 1st place in the AFC North. After losing Boldin, Jones and Pitta to injury and trade, and replacing Kruger, Ellerbe, Lewis, Reed and Williams on defense, you could argue that this is a decent place to be in with a schedule that's not as imposing as it was this time last year. That said, this team looks lost. Even in its wins, the Ravens have failed to move the ball effectively on the ground, forcing them to throw and rely on a largely unproven receiving core. With a resurgent Browns team on the horizon, the Bengals putting out strong performances of late, and the Steelers on the horizon, the 2-2 start could easily lead to a disappointing season if some course corrections aren't made.
Let's start with the good news. The good news is the Ravens defense rebounded after an abysmal performance against the Broncos, not allowing a touchdown in 2 games, averaging a little under 3 sacks per game, and sitting at 4th in the league in opponents rushing yards. This unit is doing what they couldn't do effectively last year, stop the run. Getting to the quarterback and stopping the run are two ingredients that should serve them well going forward, and keep them in games. Even letting up 23 to the Bills is a bit of an anomaly since the offense turned the ball over 5 times. That said, this defense is not getting interceptions and fumble recoveries at a high enough clip, which is an area that will need to improve going forward. But, the defense so far is good news. Marlon Brown is also shaping into form nicely. He's a nice red zone target for them, and has shown some explosiveness. They'll need him to run better routes to get open between the tackles to help move the chains, allowing Smith to be the deep threat.
Now the bad news. Gradkowski is not a good fit. He's not playing like he belongs on the starting offensive line, but like a serviceable backup. The Ravens need to juggle personnel and get him off the field. He exposes them, particularly in running situations, and he's not picking up the blitz on critical downs. The offensive line was brilliant in the playoffs last year and he's the only change. Ed Dickson, for all his athleticism, can't catch a cold, and they'll need more from him than just pass protection and blocking in this offense. They may be in a situation where they don't have much choice until Pitta returns (if he does this year), but between the preseason and the start of the regular season, he's been a complete non-factor in an offense starving for play makers. Marlon Brown can be a help as a slot receiver, but he's a rookie, and he can only cover up so much.
The final analysis: The Ravens are a solid team, but they'll need to improve particularly on offense to make the playoffs and contend. The field is pretty wide open, but given how its starting to shape up, the AFC North may not be able to get more than one team into the playoffs. Winning the division will be key, and to do that the Ravens will need to shuffle their offensive line to get better at pass protection and run blocking, relegate Ed Dickson to the end of the bench, and get more turnovers on defense.
This is a team that despite their playoff history, has recently been one that will have dynamic victories and losses that make you scratch your head. This year is no different, but what is the most alarming after 4 games is their lack of running game. They'll have a challenge on the road against Miami, but it's a winnable game for the Ravens.