By Samuel Njoku
The Ravens are 5-2 heading into their bye week, and will look to make a strong push towards the playoffs in the second half of their season. Here’s a look at who will help them make that push, and who is simply getting in their way.
Players on the rise
WR Torrey Smith
By far, the most improved player in the Ravens locker room is Torrey Smith. The former Maryland Terp showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. But 2012 has been his breakout year as he continues to burn through opposing defenses. So far, Smith has caught 25 passes for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s averaging 17.4 yards a catch and his 4 touchdowns are tied for 3rd in the NFL among receivers.
Smith caught National attention after he played a huge role in defeating the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football in Week Three. His two touchdown receptions just hours after the death of his brother made him one of the biggest sensations in 2012. If the Ravens improve their offense during road games, he could be headed for Hawaii.
PK Justin Tucker
Justin Tucker is a rookie from Texas University. But so far in 2012, he’s played like a 20 year old vet. Tucker has not only connected on 93% of his kicks (14/15), but he’s done so in pressure situations. His biggest game came in the final seconds of a pivotal game against the rival New England Patriots. Tucker squeezed a kick just inside the crossbars to give the Ravens a thrilling 31-30 victory. The Ravens made a tough decision picking a rookie over a Pro Bowl kicker in Billy Cundiff. But it appears as though their decision was right on the money. Just like Tucker’s field goal attempts.
OT Kelechi Osemele
Rookie Kelechi Osemele turned a lot of heads this year when he was asked to start at Right Tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Many wondered if the rookie could hold up at the spot. Teams would surely test the young lineman by attacking his side with exotic stunts and blitzes. And while he hasn’t been perfect, KO has certainly played well. He looks to be a lock on the starting lineup for the rest of the season.
Players who need some work
CB Cary Williams
It’s been a rough season for Cary Williams. After reportedly turning down a contract from Baltimore worth roughly 5 million a season, Williams has struggled against opposing offenses in 2011. Teams have attacked Williams constantly and have succeeded in picking up positive yards on a consistent basis. Against New England, Brady never looked on the other side of the field. He picked on Williams so much that it nearly won him the game. With the loss of Webb, Williams will need to step up his game if he is going to garner anywhere near 5 million per year next season.
LB/DE Paul Kruger
Kruger was supposed to help Baltimore forget about Jarrett Johnson. That hasn’t been the case for him in 2012. Kruger has struggled to set the edge, something JJ excelled at. He’s often taken away from the game by more physical offensive lineman. Kruger plays best when in coverage, but when he’s asked to put his hand on the turf, he instantly becomes a liability. It’ll be interesting to see if he can bounce back, or if the Ravens have to search for Jarrett Johnson’s replacement in 2013.
QB Joe Flacco
If you looked up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Joe Flacco. When Joe plays at home, he looks as though he can be the best quarterback in the NFL. But when he plays on the road, you ask yourself if he is playing that bad on purpose. And while winning on the road isn’t easy for anyone, the great quarterbacks find a way to get it done. Flacco simply hasn’t got in done in 2012. If the Ravens want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win on the road. And the Ravens can’t win on the road unless Flacco is playing good football.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Ravens news, see CBS Sports Baltimore.
Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.