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Three things we've learned from the Ravens so far this season

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USA TODAY Sports

Three things we've learned from the Ravens so far this season

It hasn't been pretty, that's for sure.

There were many questions for the Ravens heading into the 2017 season and halfway through, some of those questions still remain.

As rough as you may think it has been, the Ravens are only one game behind the Buffalo Bills for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.

Wild, right?

Sitting at 4-5 with seven games to go, the season is far from over.

While there's been a lot of bad, there's also been some good. Let's start with the biggest issue.

1) Flacco, offense still trying to figure things out

Joe Flacco missed the entire preseason with a lingering back injury and many questioned how efficient he would be seeing game action for the first time in Week 1.

Well, the Ravens started off the season 2-0 and it seemed as if Flacco — in his tenth season — could just hop right back into things. But, since the 2-0 start, Flacco has been anything but "Joe Cool." In nine games, he's thrown for 1,551 yards, 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 72.7 QB rating.

Naturally, 32-year-old Flacco isn't going to be the fresh, young QB he was during his consecutive five-year playoff run. With a collapsing offensive line and no reliable receivers to throw to, it's difficult to put all of the blame on him.

Wide receivers Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace have all missed playing time this season with injuries and concussions. The same applies to the Ravens' tight end group.

The team ranks dead last in the league in passing yards, but 10th in rushing yards.

However, their running back depth took a hit in July when Kenneth Dixon tore his medial meniscus in OTA's, ending his season.

Then Danny Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1, but has returned to practice and could make his return against the Packers, and Terrance West hasn't played since Week 5 with a calf injury. 

In comes the Ravens' running back saint, Alex Collins. 

Prior to the start of the season you had probably never heard of Collins, but the 23-year-old has rushed for 521 yards this season. He gives some credit to his training in Irish dance, which he said has helped with his foot work.

And their O-line hasn't had much luck either. Starting guard John Urschel informed the team on Day 1 of training camp that he would be retiring from the game to focus on receiving his PhD in mathematics from MIT. The team then lost guard Marshall Yanda for the year with an ankle injury.

Between all of this, it's been a rough go-around for the Ravens offense. They can't seem to get much going but head coach John Harbaugh still has faith in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Now that the Ravens offense has had some time to regroup and recover, Flacco said he's ready to come back in attack mode.

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2) Defense still dominates, but not yet consistent

Spotty: spot·ty [ˈspädē/]. adj.: marked with spots. of uneven quality; patchy. See Also: 2017 Baltimore Ravens defense

The Ravens are known for their resilient defense and are currently ranking 6th overall in the league. Inside linebacker CJ Mosely leads the team in tackles, with 76 with Tony Jefferson trailing behind him at 43.

Even though the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals aren't two of the top teams in the league, the Ravens defense shut both of them out this season. A hard accomplishment in the NFL.

On the other hand, looking at games like Week 9's matchup against the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens defense allowed Marcus Mariota and company to drive down the field for a late Eric Decker touchdown. Something they were not happy about.

And in Week 6, they lost in overtime to the 3-6 Chicago Bears.

They are definitely still a dominate force in the league, but are working out some kinks.

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3) AFC mediocrity gives Ravens a fighting chance

The NFL in 2017 has been a bit strange. There is no core of dominating teams at the top.  More than any other season, this one appears as if success really is on a week-to-week basis. 

With the Ravens only one game behind the Bills for the sixth AFC playoff spot, there is still a glimmer of hope. And on top of that, the Ravens have the third easiest remaining schedule in the league.

After the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers in Week 11, they face the Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt-less Texans, followed by the Lions, Steelers, Browns, Colts and Bengals.

There are several winnable games there and with the team coming back from their bye week as healthy as they've been all year, it's time to rise to the occasion. 

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.