Mike Preston: The 49ers have a solid defense, but let's not confuse them with the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers or Ravens. Two of their starting defensive linemen are former Ravens that the team no longer wanted. The 49ers have two good cornerbacks, and they were content to allow the Ravens to throw short passes.
My problem with the Ravens' offense is that they seem to always allow teams to dictate what they can and cannot do. If the opposing defense is playing Cover 2, the Ravens won't throw long because that's what the unofficial coaches' handbook says. If there are eight defenders in the box, then the Ravens can't run because regulation No. 28 of the coaches' handbook says you're not supposed to run. Good teams dictate to other teams what they're going to do, not respond like a computer. They say, "We're here, this is what we're going to do, and let's see you stop it." It's basic football, Football 101, but it's not in the manual.
Dave: Mike, how do you think the offensive line played after Adam Terry and Mike Flynn went down?
Mike Preston: I've liked the young kids on the offensive line from Day 1, and I think they are playing reasonably well. The Ravens were playing with three rookies at times and the group held up well on the road. It also helped that the Ravens were playing the 49ers, and not the New England Patriots or the Chargers. I think if they can keep the young players together, it can be a really special, athletic group. And if you have a good offensive line, you will be competitive in most games.
Staci: What changes need to be made on offense and defense for the Ravens to be able to compete with the elite teams in the second half of the season?
Mike Preston: To be an elite team, the Ravens need to score in the red zone (which includes running the ball), play better coverage in the secondary and find a quarterback in the same league with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
The mission might be impossible.
Glenn, Nashville: Is there a more random and unregulated penalty than delay of game for "spiking" the ball? And how exactly do officials read this rule? It seems to vary wildly from game to game.
Mike Preston: The rule is open to interpretation. Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens got one last night against the Buffalo Bills, and it was not warranted. Derrick Mason got one Sunday, and it was questionable as well. Overall, the Ravens need to cut down on all the childish stuff, just play football and grow up. Sometimes, the penalties just aren't necessary.
Daniel: What is up with Chris McAlister? He has given up two scores in the last two games, and he is supposed to be our best cornerback.
Mike Preston: Chris McAlister is a shutdown cornerback, not shutout cornerback. Game after game, he plays against the other team's top receiver. When you're playing against a T.O. or a Randy Moss or against the Bengals, you're going to give up a couple touchdowns a year. McAlister has his issues, but on the field he has played very well.
A.P.: Is our team immature or just stupid with continuously receiving delay of game and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties?
Mike Preston: Both.
Stefan: Mike, what is at the root of the Ravens' ineffectiveness in the red zone?
Mike Preston: There are a number of things wrong with the red-zone offense, but this is nothing new. The Ravens have had problems scoring points for nearly a decade. That's not just my opinion. It's a fact. I can't blame all the problems on Billick. There have been problems with execution like dropped passes and McNair not delivering the ball in a timely fashion. Willis McGahee hasn't exactly been Larry Csonka running inside the 20, either. There have been several false starts and Ravens receivers constantly fail to go to the first-down markers.
I think the Ravens should hire an offensive coordinator that isn't a "yes guy," one who will challenge Billick, and put some life into the playbook. I also think they have to run the ball inside the 20. It's crucial. The field becomes condensed in the red zone, and sometimes you just have to muscle up on defenses. Right now, the Ravens can't do that, but if they could, it would create a lot more room and opportunities to score.
Chris: Hey Mike, why do so many fans want to see Kyle Boller start at quarterback all of a sudden? I know we're a vertically-challenged team, but I don't recall seeing a lot of 40-yard bombs when Boller was the quarterback. I get the impression that the guys on the team think a gimpy McNair is still better than a fresh Boller.
Mike Preston: A lot of fans want change just to make change. Haven't we been through this before? We needed another quarterback. Then we needed better receivers, and then better offensive linemen and then a better running back. Fans watch from the outside and make observations, but they have little knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors.
McNair is a leader on this team. The players like him. They work hard for him. They have confidence in him regardless of how he is currently playing. The same can't be said about Boller. The players don't have that type of confidence in him. Also, with the offensive line being so young, McNair's experience is crucial at this time. You can change quarterbacks, running backs, whatever, but it's not going to make a big difference. It's the same system, one that hasn't been productive for years. Right now, I'm staying with McNair until he starts losing games, and that may not happen for a few more weeks.
Ben: With the injuries along the offensive line, do you think Jonathan Ogden will try to come back earlier than previously expected?
Mike Preston: J.O isn't coming back until he is healthy and ready. He has made that point to every team official over at the complex, including one Steve "Mr. Money Store" Bisciotti, the owner of the team.
Hans: Mike, what's up with all the short passes? Is this more McNair going to his check-down routes or Billick not calling plays that go down the field?
Mike Preston: The Ravens run a West Coast offense built on short passes, and the Ravens run a lot of play action. Also, because of McNair's injury, I think the Ravens cut back on some of the long drops and pass routes. It wasn't until the 49ers game that we started to see more waggles and bootlegs for McNair, so I suspect the groin injury is getting better. Overall, though, the scheme hasn't changed since Billick became head coach. I know, I feel for you. It's depressing, but it is what it is.