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Top Surprises Heading Into Bye Weekend

Posted Oct 27, 2012

A look back at some expectations and how those have played out thus far.

Preseason predictions are fun. But they’re often not accurate.

As the Ravens head into their bye, here’s a look at some of the top surprises of this season so far:

Terrell Suggs’ return
The question before the season started was whether Suggs would return at all this year. He seemed to be on the optimistic side by targeting November, but Suggs even beat his own projection and returned just more than five months after having surgery. Suggs came back as soon as he possibly could following a six-week stint on the physically unable to perform list. His speedy recovery – and high level of play after returning – has been one of the biggest shockers around the NFL.

The performance of Justin Tucker
Tucker pulled off the biggest surprise in training camp, unseating veteran kicker Billy Cundiff. And while fans and media witnessed his big and accurate right foot throughout camp, few probably thought he would get off to such a strong start this season. Tucker has missed just one of his 15 attempts and has already set the team record for most 50-plus yard field goals in a season and tied the franchise record for the longest successful attempt (54 yards).

How far the defense has fallen so quickly
It was expected that the Ravens defense would have some troubles at the outset considering its reigning Defensive Player of the Year was out. But the fall to 26th in the NFL in average yards allowed per game (400), is drastic. The defense ranked third in the league last year in total defense. The unit has really struggled against the run (142.9 yards per game), an area where it has long prided itself on being one of the league’s best.

Secondary not among the league’s best
The problems against the run are more understandable considering Suggs was out and the front seven lost Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding. But the pass defense was predicted to be the unit’s backbone. Cornerback Lardarius Webb said in April that the Ravens have the best secondary in the league. But Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith have both struggled at times and Webb’s now out for the year. Safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard had three interceptions combined in the first two games and none since. The pass defense ranks 23rd in the league (257.1 yards per game).

The number of injuries to key players
Besides Suggs being out, the Ravens were relatively healthy for the first several weeks of the season. Their injury report was far shorter than their peers’. Then injuries came in bunches. Haloti Ngata suffered knee and shoulder injuries. Safety Ed Reed hurt his shoulder, then came out last week with a rib contusion. In one game, Webb went down with a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament and linebacker Ray Lewis suffered a torn triceps. Suggs, Ngata, Reed, Webb and Lewis are perhaps the team’s top five defenders.

Offense didn’t cure its inconsistency issues
Pundits touted the progress of the offense this preseason, as quarterback Joe Flacco and his weapons had a year of growth under their belt and were virtually unchanged. While the offense and its newfound hurry-up style has excelled at home, it has struggled mightily on the road. It’s the same complaint critics had of Flacco and the offense last season. The road woes continue as the Ravens have scored 129 points at home and just 55 on the road in one fewer game. Flacco has been very hot and cold at home and on the road, which has marred his predicted leap forward this year.

Emergence of rookie Kelechi Osemele
The second-round pick has made an immediate impact. After essentially beating out Bryant McKinnie in training camp, Osemele has started every game on the right side and held up well. He had tough games against Cleveland and in Kansas City, but has rebounded with back-to-back strong performance in which he’s allowed just one quarterback hit and hurry combined. The Iowa State mauler showed his grittiness in Houston by returning after what looked to be a serious ankle injury.


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