Sid, Mahwah, N.J.: Mike, Is the season over for us? Or is Kyle Boller gonna come back and do some miracles?
Mike Preston: Sid, God bless you. You are a diehard fan. To ask a question like that, you must wear the purple-colored sunglasses, bleed purple and drink the grape Kool Aid. But if you can't see the writing on the wall, I suggest you call your eye doctor immediately. In theory, the Ravens have to win eight straight just to be in contention. Let's repeat that. They have to win eight straight with an unproven quarterback, bad offensive line, an unhappy running back, middle linebacker and safety and a locker room that is in disarray again. If Boller can pull this off, he's completed a miracle of biblical proportions. And if that happens, then there is an Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy.
Jay, Owings Mills: Why did Billick put Anthony Wright back in this Sunday's game? The only spark you saw on the side of the Ravens was during Slash's brief stint in the game. When is Billick going to get the message that his plan for this season is NOT working? I guess when he loses his job he'll get the message loud and clear.
Mike Preston: I'll agree that Billick's plan for the season isn't working, but I would have pulled Kordell, too. He can't throw anymore. He can't hit the ground if he dropped the ball. That was clear during his tryout when he overthrew receivers on short routes. The Ravens signed Stewart for absolute emergencies and one presented itself Sunday. You knew the guy couldn't throw when receiver Randy Hymes threw a pass before Stewart. You can applaud Stewart's effort. He gave the fans some excitement, but Anthony Wright was the Ravens best chance of winning. He took most of the repetitions during the week. He has worked with Derrick Mason and Todd Heap much more than Stewart. It really wouldn't have made a difference. The offense is terrible, and the Ravens two-minute offense is a joke. The Ravens are a team with four backup quarterbacks. Any of them could have played in that situation, and it wasn't going to work out.
Mike, Madrid, Spain: Now that the Ravens are eliminated from Super Bowl contention both logically and now mathematically, can we expect to see anything new? I mean most teams would use this opportunity to give some rookie prospects a look. For example Derrick Anderson - the Ravens QB with the best preseason - but oh that's right, he was let go to make room for "proven" veterans like Kordell Stewart and the essential Patrick Johnson for our Super Bowl push. This isn't the first time this has happened, of course. Last year the Ravens released Josh Harris basically for Stewart yet again and Gerome Sapp for Corey Fuller (so Deion wouldn't get upset). Will this be the year that the Ravens finally stop mortgaging the future?
Mike Preston: The Ravens aren't at that point yet. It's an uphill battle to get to the playoffs, but you've still got to work for it. You plan the entire offseason, and these players spend a lot of time in the weight room preparing to make a run at the playoffs. If there is a glimmer of hope, you go for it. If the Ravens had won Sunday, Wright would still be the quarterback. But since the Ravens are desperate and looking for a spark, they'll start Boller instead. At least with Boller, they still have a shot at the postseason regardless of how unrealistic, and then should also be able to determine whether he is their quarterback of the future. If they lose one, maybe two more games soon, it will be time to take a look at some of the younger guys.
Has Billick been loyal to veterans? Without question, but they were always in contention in the past down to the last month. With the team out of the playoff picture, even he has to look toward the future.
Matthew, Baltimore: I'll be terse. In your estimation what are Brian Billick's most glaring shortcomings as an NFL head coach?
Mike Preston: I'll be just as terse. After his first season here, I wrote after the last game that Billick wasn't as strong in the X's and O's as some believed. He doesn't have a feel for games. He doesn't know how to take a game over, or how to seize that four- to five-minute window of a game that usually determines the outcome. He relies too much on stats and being balanced instead of gut instincts. He also doesn't adapt well. It's good to have confidence in what you believe, but you can't be blind to other suggestions or approaches. For example, the light training camp, no curfews, etc., were good for the team in 2000 because there were so many veterans, but it hasn't been good for this team the past two years. But Billick is unwilling to change.
Every team is different. Every team has its own chemistry, and you have to find that pulse of that particular team. Billick can't do that because he is so stuck in his ways, just like switching quarterbacks, or running backs. We all have to make modifications at some point. Billick is a good coach. His strengths are obvious. He reminds me of Jimmy Johnson, a guy who wasn't great in the X's and O's, but surrounded himself with good assistants. Johnson was well organized and could motivate. But the truly great coaches have always been able to adapt and move on. They adjust to the needs of the team, not always having the team adjust to the coach. It's easier for one person to adjust to 53 than for 53 to adjust to one.
Will, Pittsburgh: Hi Mike. With all the talk of the O-line struggles, why haven't Rimpf, Brown or Terry been given a little time - even using Terry as a tight end in short yardage situations? Is Billick being loyal to veterans?
Mike Preston: Of course he is being loyal to veterans, but at the same time still trying to win games. There is still time for the younger guys to play. To insert the younger guys right now would be incredibly stupid. That would signal the end, not only to the season, but probably to Billick as well. This team would quit. If you think it's ugly now, imagine what it would be like if these guys turned it in at the midway point. Billick would get fired. He's doing the right thing staying with the veterans. It's in the best interest of everyone.
Jack, Washington D.C. : Hey Mike "the truth" Preston, how much leeway does Fassel have with this offense? All I know is under Billick we've been among the lousiest red zone teams over the past seven years.
Mike Preston: I think Jimbo calls the plays, but it's basically Billick's mess, uh, offense. It's still the same: boring, unimaginative, predictable, can't score touchdowns. It's fair that the owner, general manager, Billick and Fassel need to sit down at the end of the season and evaluate the system. The Ravens have changed quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, coordinators and quarterback coaches, and the result is still the same. It's not working, and there should be no more excuses after seven seasons. The Ravens have four Pro Bowl players on offense at key positions, and they still can't score points. It's time to kill the offense. If they don't, it might be time to get rid of the guy who designed it.
Lee, Pikesville: I've never been one for overkill, but how can the Ravens continue to waste so much time on their hurry-up drives? Practice obviously doesn't make perfect because it feels like deja vu every week. Can we get a petition going for a new staff member, "The two-minute drive coach?"
Mike Preston: It's amazing a team can be so inept at running the two-minute offense when it's such an important part of the game. What has been your funniest moment this year? Was it when Mike Flynn snapped the ball 40 yards over Wright's head, or when Wright stood there for about 45 seconds waiting for a play to come in from the bench? I like the hurry up approach, when the Ravens huddle after each play instead of going straight to the line of scrimmage. I'm waiting for the day when Wright tries to intentionally spike the ball, it hits left guard Edwin Mulitalo's shoe, and a Steelers defensive lineman picks it off and returns it for a touchdown. It's so sad that it has become comical.
Chris, Millsboro, Del.: I would have given Gary Baxter the same deal as Rolle to stay with the team. I prefer his more physical style of play. Why did we let go of younger players like Baxter and Hartwell?
Mike Preston: I have no problem with Baxter or Rolle being on the roster. I think both are good players, they just have different styles. I always thought Baxter was out of position, and that he was a better safety than a corner. The Ravens wanted to make the switch, but Baxter wanted to stay at cornerback. Baxter is physical, strong and came up well in run support. Rolle is an excellent cover corner. He doesn't support the run as well as Baxter, but he doesn't have that big body. Teams fear Rolle. They know he's a quality cover guy. Going in, the Ravens wanted to play the 46 defense. To be real effective in it, you need quality cover guys on the outside who can play one on one. In that respect, Rolle is better than Baxter.
As for why the Ravens didn't give them big contracts, both Baxter and Hartwell were adamant about getting new contracts last season. They talked about it openly in the locker room, and some players thought it became a distraction. Both guys were also members of the blue-collar faction. They weren't part of the upper class, or Ray Lewis group. Hartwell simply didn't like Lewis, and thought Lewis had become overrated, and he was being overlooked. Plus, the Ravens had invested a lot of money at the linebacker position in previous years with Lewis, Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs.
Lisa, Beltsville: What has happened to the Ravens defense? Is it personnel, scheme or both?
Mike Preston: The Ravens still play good defense, but they just aren't as dominating as they were in 2000. That type of defense comes along maybe every 15 to 25 years. Also, key members of the defense have gotten older, guys like Boulware and Lewis, who were the cornerstones. The Ravens get a strong effort from their defensive line, but the group is not in the class of their predecessors. Actually, it's unfair to compare the present defense with the former. The 2005 defense has played well enough to win, well enough to put this team in the playoffs if the Ravens had an offense.
Isaac, Silver Spring: Why is Ray upset about his contract?
Mike Preston: Lewis is near the end of his career and wants one last big payday. He believes that the Ravens owe him, not just for what he has done on the field, but for the franchise as far as being the team spokesman and face of the organization. He has helped recruit free agent players, and there is no doubt that the Ravens would not have won the Super Bowl without him.
With that said, the Ravens have extended his contract several times, probably more than other player in the team's history. They stood behind him 100 percent during his double murder trial in Atlanta. It's a sticky situation, and hopefully both sides can find a way to end it without hard feelings. Neither side deserves to lose here.
Bob, Forest Hill: Billick - NBC or CBS commentator next season?
Mike Preston: You're getting way ahead of the curve here. But if I had to pick, he'd go to FOX. He can drop more expletives on that network.