Most teams in the NFL begin their serious playoff streak in December, but the Ravens should begin Monday when they play the Saints in New Orleans.

The Ravens have lost six of their last nine opponents. Among them are the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons, both 4-4, are the top seed, and the Ravens will face just two franchise quarterbacks: Bengals’ Joe Burrow and Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson.

The Ravens (5-3) have their own issues after three fourth-quarter turnovers in losses to the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, but this schedule should be friendly enough for them to win 10 or 11 games and maybe the AFC North.

Before the second half of 2022 begins, The Baltimore Sun gives the Ravens their positional grades through the first eight games.

Quarterback

So far, it’s been an up-and-down season for Lamar Jackson. At times, he performed as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. At other times, he made poor decisions and made imprecise passes that led to turnovers. Forget his stats — 148-for-235 (63%) for 1,635 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions and 75 carries for 553 yards and two touchdowns — the team’s formula for success is allowing Jackson to complete 15 to 35 passes per game. If Jackson is struggling to throw, the Ravens should just give him the green light to run and take the ball out of his hands. Grade: B-

Running backs

The Ravens appear to have found their identity again with Gus Edwards (27 carries, 131 yards, two touchdowns) in the starting lineup after he missed the first six games recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last season. The Ravens lacked his strength and lean frame; he is rarely stopped for losses. But with Edwards and J. K. Dobbins (35 carries, 121 yards, one touchdown) still has questions about how long he will last. Dobbins is out at least another month with a recurring knee problem, and Edwards suffered a hamstring injury in Thursday night’s win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though coach John Harbaugh said it was considered minor and he has a chance play Monday night against the Saints. Kenyan Drake (49 carries, 251 yards, one touchdown) is a solid replacement, and Justice Hill (27 carries, 179 yards) provides speed and burst on the edge, but this offense needs rebounding studs. Right now, the Ravens have two in Edwards and Dobbins, neither of whom are completely healthy. Grade: B-

Offensive line

It’s no coincidence that the offensive line has improved, especially with the tight ends, since Pro Bowl walk-off Ronnie Stanley returned against the Bengals on Oct. 9. Stanley has played at a high level despite missing 31 games since his initial ankle injury in November 2020 and his presence gives this group confidence. Left fielder Ben Powers is having the best season of his four-year career. Right tackle Morgan Moses excels in run blocking, and right guard Kevin Zeitler is better than any of his linemates. Rookie center Tyler Linderbaum struggled with the big nose guard playing over him Thursday, but he gets to the second level and cuts off linebackers. The Ravens still need to improve their pass defense, which wasn’t an issue earlier in the season. Grade: B

Receivers

The Ravens got average production from this group, but could get more thanks to offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s creativity and Jackson’s increased accuracy. Incumbent tight end Mark Andrews (42 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns) is Jackson’s top receiver and had another strong year, but the Ravens need to include speedy Devin DuVernay (24 catches, 313 yards, three touchdowns) more as a receiver and running back. Second-year shortstop Rashad Bateman would be more effective if he could stay healthy — he’s out for several weeks after aggravating a foot injury last week against Tampa Bay. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely and veteran tight end DeMarcus Robinson have become options in recent weeks. Jackson needs to be better at reading the outside of the field so Robinson can become more of a weapon downfield, and Roman needs to learn to use more rubs, combos and sweeps instead of just letting Jackson throw 30 times in the half court like he did against Tampa Bay. Grade: C

Defensive line

This group was dominant, which is a bit surprising because the Ravens lost nose guard Michael Pierce with torn biceps in the third week. But his replacement, rookie Travis Jones, played well enough with nine tackles, including a sack. The important thing for Jones was to get into playing shape. Justin Madubuike is having the best season of his three-year career with 22 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks, and he’s slowed down a lot of running games with quick penetration from the snap. End Calais Campbell was solid and at times dominant with 21 tackles and three sacks. The question is, how long can the 36-year-old Campbell last losing so many snaps? Broderick Washington played well during the preseason and carried that into the regular season with 18 tackles, while veteran Brent Urban was able to give all the starters some relief at various times. The Ravens were solid against the run and improved against the pass compared to the previous three seasons. Grade: B

Linebackers

Inside linebacker Patrick Quinn leads the Ravens in tackles with 53 sacks and 3 1/2 sacks, but seems to be more effective when the Ravens allow him to run straight ahead to beat the gap or blitz. The same can be said for Malik Harrison, who has 27 tackles. Neither are linebackers from a previous era, though Harrison is 6-3 and 259 pounds. The defensive line does a good job of containing opposing linemen, but the Ravens don’t have the right guys to clean up yet. This may change with the acquisition of star linebacker Roquan Smith. The outside linebacker was solid and at times impressive in passing. Justin Houston, who is playing on a limited basis, has six sacks and Odafe Oweh has one sack and 27 tackles. The outside linebackers are struggling to hold the edge, especially veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. That group will get a boost with Tyus Bowser and David Ojaba back on the field once they are fully recovered from their torn Achilles tendons. Bowser can play against the Saints. Grade: C+

Secondary

The Ravens need to hurry because the secondary is extremely vulnerable, especially with safety Marcus Williams is out for an extended period of time with a wrist injury. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters has been a big contributor, but opposing teams have targeted him because he seems to have lost his step. Marlon Humphrey plays well inside, but his lack of ball skills and speed makes him a struggle on the outside. Fortunately, Humphrey and Peters are crafty enough to hide some of the flaws, and both play hard. Safety Chuck Clark played well and is second on the team in tackles with 51. Gino Stone, who stepped in nicely for Williams, was solid and tackled the ball well. Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top draft pick, has struggled at times but appears to be playing better near the line of scrimmage than on defense. Rookie Demarion “Pepe” Williams played well at the third cornerback position. The Ravens got more out of him than backup Brandon Stevens. Grade: C

Special teams

The Ravens have perhaps the best kicking game in the NFL. Kicker Justin Tucker made 16 of 18 field goal attempts, with both misses coming from more than 50 yards. Tucker was 5-for-7 on 50-plus field goal attempts and had one kick of 58 yards. Rookie Jordan Stout has averaged 48.9 yards on 25 punts so far, with nine of them going inside the 20-yard line. DuVernay doubles as both a punt returner and kickoff returner, averaging 31.9 yards per kickoff return and 15.1 yards per punt return. He also returned a kickoff against Miami 103 yards for a touchdown. Grade: A

Coaching

This team is under development. Harbaugh has been patient in trying to get injured players back on the field, more so than in previous years. Defensively, the Ravens had a tough time keeping offense in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The four fourth-quarter touchdowns allowed in the Week 2 loss to Miami were an embarrassment. As recently as two weeks ago, it was hard to tell if the Ravens were a running or passing team. It remains to be seen how much potential this team has, but it’s certainly more than they’ve shown. Grade: B-

week 9

Ravens at Saints

Monday, 8:15 p.m

TV: ESPN

radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

String: Ravens 3

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