Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers readers questions about the Ravens, including questions on the game, players and coaches. This week, Preston addresses the Ravens' pass and run defense against the Panthers and as a whole this season. One interesting development is the continued drama unfolding off the field: This week it was the spat between Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason. "With the Ravens, it's starting to become a soap opera," writes Preston.

Mike K.: Jameel McClain seems to get caught biting for the early fake/ off responsibility on a lot of running plays. Is he that bad or is he that young and needs work?

Mike Preston: McClain needs to learn to play his assignments. The key to run defense is gap assignments and controlling the edges. When McClain leaves his gap open, as he did several Sunday, long runs happen. As I stated in an earlier blog, Dannell Ellerbe needs to be placed on the work-release program from Coach John Harbaugh's dog house for about 3 hours every Sunday to see if he can help the situation.

Bob: The more I watch Joe Flacco, the more unimpressed I am. Yes, he has a great arm. But he has poor pocket presence, looks down receivers, and makes poor decisions. And this is his third year. I think Mark Sanchez, as well as other first- and second-year quarterbacks, has a much better future than Flacco. Is the problem coaching or just that Flacco doesn't have "it"?

Mike Preston: Flacco is a good quarterback, but as I said earlier this year, his ceiling is in the Tony Romo range. He'll never be a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady but he's good enough to manage and win games if complemented by the right talent. And if given the chance, I'd take Joe over Sanchez at this time.

Justin: It was mentioned during the game that Ray Lewis isn't worried about numbers anymore as far as being No. 1 in rankings on defense, do you think that the defense is now realizing that they have big issues? And can this be the downfall of this team this year?

Mike Preston: Ray and everyone else knows this defense doesn't match up to the defenses we've seen in past. If you look closely you'll notice that there are no elite defensive teams in this year's NFL. The Jets, Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Falcons, Packers, and Giants all have holes as big as the Ravens'. Let's just see who can ride it out and get to the playoffs.

RichieG: Greg Mattison is not the only defensive coordinator rushing just 3 in obvious passing situations (I even saw the Jets do it [Sunday]). Since it seems a QB, given time, will almost always find an open man, what is the reasoning behind this trend?

Mike Preston: They are scared of getting beat instead of finishing the game strong.

Dave: The secondary has gone from top of the league to near the bottom since Ed Reed returned to the lineup. Can we blame Reed for the secondary's demise?

Mike Preston:The Ravens played outstanding defense in the beginning of the season, and some of that has to do with the quarterbacks and the offenses they faced. Teams have picked up on the Ravens' weaknesses, and they're going after them. That's just the nature of the NFL. They're like sharks. They see blood and go after it. I can't blame the big passing plays this season on Reed. For one, he is not at 100 percent. And two, some of the Ravens corners are getting lit up so fast that no safety can get over fast enough to help. The bottom line, in Lewis' words, is the Ravens are short on talent in a lot of areas on defense.

Ron: When Ed Reed laterals every time he picks off a pass, the ravens either score a touchdown or turn the ball over? It's very risky every time he does it. Will Ed ever learn? If you were the coach of this team, how can you get Ed to stop his lateraling for good?

Mike Preston: There are two sets of rules on the Ravens as well as the other NFL teams. There is one set for the star players, like Reed and Derrick Mason, and another set for the other players. The only way to stop Ed from lateraling is to remove him from the field. The end.

Rod Whatever happened to Oniel Cousins? Would it have been wiser to move Marshal Yanda back to guard and install Cousins at tackle especially given Carolina's weakness against the run? Rod

Mike Preston: Oniel who? Yanda has established himself at right tackle for the season, and Tony Moll played as well as could be expected filling in for Chris Chester (skin infection). If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and it wasn't broke Sunday.

Roy: Who won the Flacco/Mason fight? Was it a middleweight contest? I imagine Mason packs a knockout punch, but Flacco keeps opponents at length with his long arm jabs.

Mike Preston: Rumor has it the WWE has contacted the Ravens about featuring Flacco and Mason in a steel cage match with Cam Cameron as referee. Vegas money has Mighty Joe taking down Mini Mason in this return bout.

David: It was good to see T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin talking shop on the sideline during Sunday's game. Do you see them as the receiving tandem of the future for the Ravens. Not a bad duo.

Mike Preston: Not a bad thought. It will be interesting to see if Houshmandzadeh still wants to play like a Raven. After Mason flipped out Sunday, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens got in Houshmandzadeh's ear and asked him to stay around for next season to become the No. 2 receiver. Regardless of Harbaugh's spin, the Ravens are getting tired of Mason's rants. He went too far and undermined his quarterback and his authority Sunday. This incident also makes Harbaugh look bad as well as the entire franchise. Earlier in the season, Harbaugh was involved in an exchange with outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. Then we had fullback Le'Ron McClain out of control in New England, and then he was involved in Spitgate. Now, we had the showdown at the O.K. Corral with Mason and Flacco. Ooops, there is one more. Remember, when running back Willis McGahee didn't play against New England? The Ravens initially said McGahee didn't play because they thought Ray Rice was playing well and close to breaking one. Later, they admitted they simply got caught up in the game and forgot about McGahee. But later in the same week, McGahee was telling folks close to him that he overslept and was two minutes late for a meeting, which is why he didn't play. With the Ravens, it's starting to become a soap opera. So, as the world turns, so do those receivers. Right now, I know Boldin will return, but I'm not sure about Houshmandzadeh, or the new Golden Gloves champion, Mason.