Late For Work 9/29: 6 Ravens Players That Give You Hope

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Billick: Just Calm Down; 6 Players That Offer Hope

I'm sick of writing about how bad the start of the season has been for the winless Ravens

Don't get me wrong. After an 0-3 start, it's impossible to avoid it (see below for proof).

But sometimes you just need a break, and you have to give credit where credit is due. The Ravens have lost to teams – the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals – that have a combined record of 8-1. That's a sign of quality opponents. And the one loss was because two of the teams played each other (Raiders and Bengals).

Take a look at their margin of victories over the Ravens:

Broncos: 6-point win
Raiders: 4-point win
Bengals: 4-point win

NFL Network analyst and former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick has a segment on his show called "Just Calm Down" and referred to it when trying to offer some hope.

"It's hard for the Ravens fans right now, but we just need to calm down," Billick told WNST's Nestor Aparicio, adding that the Bengals are looking like one of the top 4 teams, not just in the AFC, but in the entire NFL.

"That was a heck of a game," he continued. "It wasn't the outcome the Ravens wanted, and 0-3 is not comfortable. It is hard. But this organization has been through a three-game losing streak, it just wasn't at the start of the season, and we all remember how that season ended. It's hard when you're 0-3 … we've got a lot of football left to play, and the schedule in the latter half of the year favors the Ravens."

The only thing fans can do to remain optimistic is the same thing players and coaches have to do. They must ignore the playoff odds of previous 0-3 teams and claw back one game at a time. Remember there are 13 games left.

Billick assumes, for argument's sake, that the Bengals will continue down this road and win the division title. That means Baltimore will have to compete with other non-division winners for an AFC wild-card spot.

"It can be very crowded, but it's a group that they can compete with if they can just hang around," Billick said.

After that, the Ravens know better than anyone that anything can happen once they make it to the dance. Baltimore has won at least one playoff game each time it's advanced.

So, the path is clear. But the Ravens have to play better in a lot of areas, including cutting down on penalties, getting the run game going, protecting fourth-quarter leads, finding new playmakers on offense and simply believing they can win.

6 Ravens Players That Give You Hope

Head Coach John Harbaugh borrowed the words of the great Winston Churchill that perfectly embodies what needs to happen next: "When you're going through Hell, keep going."

In that spirit, here are five players that kept going Sunday against the Bengals, providing hope and an example of fighting to their teammates.

The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli named these five as players trending up (for those trending down, click here.)   

WR Steve Smith Sr.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) Grade: plus-3.8 overall, the second-highest grade of all wide receivers in Week 3
Meoli: "This guy is something else. He played so hard he puked and needed an IV on the sideline, and yet catches double-digit passes [in back-to-back games] for the first time in his superlative career and ends with 13 catches, 186 yards and two touchdowns. His want-to on the fourth-and-5, 50-yard touchdown was basically unmatched in the game Sunday, and he's gone from a suggested limited role at last season's end to being the only standout on the Ravens offense through three games."

DT Brandon WilliamsPFF Grade: plus-7.6 overall and plus-6.7 in run defense, both the highest marks for all defensive tackles in Week 3Meoli: "After a down week in Oakland, Williams was back to his unstoppable self Sunday against the Bengals. He led the Ravens with eight total tackles, including a team-high two tackles for loss, and kept the Bengals ground game bottled up all day. Their longest run was seven yards, and there were rarely holes in the middle where Williams was playing. He gave Bengals center Russell Bodine nightmares, and was much closer to the game-wrecker of Week 1 vintage than the non-factor from Week 2."

TEs Maxx Williams & Nick Boyle
PFF Grades: minus-0.4 for Williams, plus-0.7 for Boyle
Meoli: "I'm copping out big-time with a third straight combo in this weekly feature, but these two stepped up in a big way with starter Crockett Gillmore on the sidelines for the second half. They combined for five catches and 63 yards, with Boyle doing his best Williams impression and leaping a defender after his first career catch in the first quarter. It could end up being Gillmore's show at the position, but these two can carve out nice roles for themselves with performances like this."

DE Lawrence GuyPFF Grade: minus-0.1Meoli: "Starting in place of defensive end Chris Canty, Guy was just as key to keeping the Bengals' two top running backs — Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard — as anyone else. Guy is in the James Hurst category of "Reserve who plays behind an injury-prone starter," and since joining the team as a waiver claim early in 2014, has been one of their most consistent defenders. Canty might start on name alone, but Guy is clearly the Ravens' top defensive end."

LB C.J. MosleyPFF Grade: plus-1.6 overall (6th best among inside linebackers in Week 3), plus-2.3 in pass defense (tied for best in position group)Meoli: "His first career touchdown aside, Mosley was all over the field on Sunday. He made six tackles as a sideline-to-sideline force against the Bengals, hit quarterback Andy Dalton once, and recorded a pass defense underneath in the second quarter. He also largely kept tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard in check in the passing game. After two weeks, they were unstoppable parts of the Bengals passing game. Mosley, Daryl Smith and the Ravens' safeties made sure that wasn't the case Sunday."

Full Offensive And Defensive Grades

You could add four more players to the list that gives hope based on their PFF grades this week: Marshal Yanda, Elvis Dumervil, Timmy Jernigan and even Lardarius Webb, who has taken a lot of criticism recently.

Dumervil's overall plus-6.9 grade is a good sign as he was in just his second week of essentially becoming a full-time player. He got a plus-6.3 pass-rush grade, second best among 3-4 outside linebackers, after a strip sack on Dalton, along with six total pressures.

Jernigan had a nice bounce-back game from his season debut in Oakland. He got a plus-3.1 overall grade, getting high marks in both run and pass defense. Check out how far back he drove the Bengals center last week.

Now if Jimmy Smith, Justin Forsett and Kelechi Osemele can return to form, things might start clicking for Baltimore. And based on James Hurst's grade, it's nice to know that Eugene Monroe returned to practice yesterday, albeit in a limited capacity.

Below are all of the Ravens' offensive and defensive grades from Week 3.

Will Steve Smith Wear Out At This Pace?

As amazing as Smith was on Sunday, ESPN's Jamison Hensley is worried that the 36-year-old receiver could putter out before the end of the season.

During the offseason, Harbaugh had talked about limiting his snap count to preserve his legs for down the stretch. He played 57 snaps against the Bengals, catching 13 passes for 186 yards (third-most in Ravens history) and two touchdowns.

"The winless Ravens are going to wear down Smith in his farewell season if another wide receiver doesn't step up soon," wrote Hensley.

The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec said it is "alarming" that No. 2 receiver Kamar Aiken had the most snaps among all the Ravens receivers (63) Sunday, but only had two targets and zero catches.

Smith's 25 receptions on the year are 10 more than the rest of Baltimore's wide receivers combined. Tight end Crockett Gillmore emerged as a playmaker, but there's a question about whether he will play against the Steelers with an injured calf. Here's a breakdown in production for the other players in the passing game:

Kamar Aiken: six catches, 88 yards, no touchdowns

Marlon Brown: six catches, 66 yards, no touchdowns

Michael Campanaro: three catches, 19 yards, no touchdown

Darren Waller: zero catches

Breshad Perriman: hasn't played

"If the supporting cast can't do much better than that, how much longer can Smith keep up this pace?" asked Hensley. "Last season, he was among the top receivers in the NFL for the first eight games, totaling 675 yards receiving (seventh most in the NFL). He didn't sustain that in the last eight games, putting up 390 yards (53rd in the league).

"The [other receivers] have disappeared most games. There is no speed, athleticism or separation from defenders"

Is Jimmy Smith's Foot Bothering Him?

The Ravens likely didn't envision this kind of start to the season for Jimmy Smith when they gave him a four-year deal this offseason, reportedly worth $41.1 million.

He's given up big plays that had a major impact on two of the Ravens' losses. He allowed a 68-yard touchdown pass to Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper. Per PFF, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green caught seven passes against him for 126 yards and the winning touchdown.

Smith's start is so surprising that it's caused some to wonder if he hasn't completely healed from Lisfranc foot surgery performed 11 months ago. Media asked him Monday if that is having any effect.

"People come back from injuries; they play," Smith said. "Until this season is over, I'll never talk about my foot."

If Smith won't rule it out, the question will linger in media and fans' minds.

"It's become a legitimate question," wrote Hensley, "to ask whether he's fully recovered … and whether it's on his mind."

Quick Hits

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