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Ravens report card: Defense, special teams

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Ravens report card: Defense, special teams

We've already graded the offense after the Ravens' 37-33 loss to Oakland. Now it's time to grade the defense and special teams. After giving up 37 points, did anyone pass?

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

The Ravens allowed about 5 yards a carry on the ground (19 carries, 97 yards) and generally got pushed around. There was no pressure up the middle on Derek Carr, and Timmy Jernigan committed a terrible roughing-the-passer penalty that handed the Raiders 15 yards on their game-winning drive. The starting front three of Jernigan, Brandon Williams and Chris Canty had a combined total of one tackle.

LINEBACKERS: F

The Ravens had no pass rush whatsoever, allowing Derek Carr to sit back and carve up the Ravens defense (351 yards passing). True, Terrell Suggs was out, but Elvis Dumervil was no factor. Courtney Upshaw, Za'Darius Smith and Albert McClellan all saw time at outside linebacker and hardly ever got near Carr. Upshaw was again badly mismatched when he had to drop into coverage. C.J. Mosley (9) and Daryl Smith (8) led the team in tackles, but they both missed tackles as well. Paging Jason Babin ...

SECONDARY: D-

The Ravens secondary was picked apart, but when any NFL quarterback has as much time as Derek Carr did, that's bound to happen. Jimmy Smith got badly beaten by Amari Cooper on the Raiders' first touchdown, and Michael Crabtree got 10 yards behind Lardarius Webb on another play as Webb bit on Carr's rollout. Only an underthrown ball kept that from being an easy touchdown. On the Raiders' game-winning score, Seth Roberts got all alone in the Ravens zone after Kyle Arrington let him go by. Arrington was also beaten deep when he had to play outside after Webb briefly left the game. Safety Kendrick Lewis got faked out of his shoes by Carr on a read-option, leading to a 24-yard run by Carr. Will Hill's interception was one of the few highlights, and a second pick that would have ended the game was waved off by a questionable defensive holding call.  

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+

Justin Tucker was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals, and Sam Koch netted 43.5 yards on two punts. Michael Campanaro had one kick return of 29 yards, but Steve Smith let a punt drop that ultimately rolled into a 70-yard kick. The Ravens punt coverage team allowed just 5 yards on two returns.

MORE RAVENS: GRADING THE TEAM'S OFFENSE IN OAKLAND 

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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