Cam C. in Owings Mills (a.k.a Nate from Charlottesville): I have an idea. I'm about to play the worst run defense in the NFL, and my game plan is going to be to throw it 60 times. Oh, and my best offensive player is my running back. Crazy? Crazy like a fox, I say! Why does my 6-year-old think I'm making a mistake?
Mike Preston: And your 6-year-old forgot to tell you that when you get a big lead, you'll still keep wanting to throw, throw and throw some more. Sorry Nate, I can't help you with the game plan. I'm just some lowly sportswriter who hasn't a clue.
You're on your own on this one.
Anthony: What was the biggest difference between the first quarter and the rest of the game in regards to the Ravens' passing game? Early on, Joe Flacco was making good throws (especially the crossing route to Anquan Boldin when he threw across his body). Then everything was off. Do you (and more importantly, does the organization) think Flacco will ever progress past the level of a 'solid starter?' And if not, what impact will that have when it comes time to re-sign him?
Mike Preston: Flacco is Flacco. He's somewhere in the average-to-good range, but will never be in the elite class. New York started bringing more pressure in the second and third quarters. The offensive line couldn't handle it, and Flacco started getting nervous feet. He had an off night after the first quarter.
I think Flacco has to have another season like the previous three for the Ravens to give him a bigger contract. He won't go in the tank, but I don't think he'll get much better than he is right now. He is good enough to win a Super Bowl, but he better have the right players around him. His arm isn't strong enough to carry the offense -- not consistently, anyway.
Ioannis: The Ravens' offense seems to have not learned the lessons from the playoff loss at Pittsburgh last season. Yes, they need to give the rookie wide receivers and new offensive line time to develop, but it seems like individual players are still making stupid decisions. Ed Dickson dropped two or three balls, LaQuan Williams fumbled a return, and Flacco was unable to make quick and sound decisions on the run when he fumbled. Why the lack of focus?
Mike Preston: If the Ravens had an answer to that question, you wouldn't be asking it. But in the Ravens' defense, no team plays the perfect game. You're going to have mistakes every game. From what I see, at least at this point, running back Ray Rice needs to become the centerpiece of the offense. He is the most consistent, all-around, big-play performer. I think the Ravens are trying to find answers to questions on offense, and there are no viable solutions. It's a no-brainer to me. Rice has to touch the ball 25-to-30 times a game, either as a runner or receiver. The other units are too inconsistent.
LordBern: Why oh why is Ed Reed returning punts? I know he wants to be a play-maker, but after several first-string players went down with season-ending injuries, don't you think they'd think twice about putting him in that dangerous situation? What's next? Haloti Ngata returning kickoffs?
Mike Preston: The Ravens had few other options. With David Reed out because of an injury, the Ravens were forced to replace Reed as a kickoff returner and also find a No. 3 receiver. If Ed Reed didn't return punts, it was either going to be Lardarius Webb or Chris Carr as the punt returner, and Carr obviously didn't play because of injuries. Rookie LaQuan Williams was an option, but he was already doubling as a kick returner and No. 3 receiver.
Reed was basically back there to catch and field the punt cleanly. Under the circumstances, the move was justified.
Richard: Mike, do you think the Ravens need another veteran wide receiver? I love giving Torrey Smith experience, but these guys aren't getting it done. We need more separation.
Mike Preston: Richard, if you are speaking about Sunday night, we need a better pass-protecting offensive line and a more accurate quarterback. I love this separation thing, but how often in the NFL do receivers actually get two or three steps on a defender?
It doesn't happen often, and when it does, it's usually because of the scheme. The great quarterbacks know where and how to deliver the ball. Last year, fans complained about the receivers being too old. Now, they are too young.
This ain't The Three Bears. Good quarterbacks can make average receivers look good, but they also have to get ample time to throw. And guys like Dickson have to learn to hang onto the ball.
Thomas from Baltimore: Mike, I know that it is early in the season, but it looks like to me that Haloti Ngata may be the best defensive player in the NFL right now. What chance do you think he has to win Defensive MVP?
Mike Preston: It's hard for tackles to win the award because they aren't sack specialists and don't make a lot of game-changing plays. They aren't pretty boys who high step into the end zone. But if the so-called experts have watched Ngata play, they would know he has had one or two game-changing plays a game. He dominates the interior and the Ravens do a good job of moving him around. Plus, he still keeps opposing offensive linemen off Ray Lewis. He's the best in the business right now.
Elliot: I know Sergio Kindle is "not good enough" right now, but given the influx of youth, he seems to have an incredibly high ceiling. Should we be seeing that talent on display?
Mike Preston: No, not yet. Kindle has to learn to work hard on and off the field. After missing last season, this year is more of a learning year for Kindle, and one thing that has to improve is his work ethic.
EB: It's clear to me that Ray Rice is a top-five player in the NFL, including quarterbacks. Franchising him would be a mistake, but paying him $10 million/season may also be a mistake. What do the Ravens do here?
Mike Preston: Back up the same Brinks truck they used for Ngata, and this time deposit the money for Rice.
Dave: Why does there never seem to be any urgency with the offense? It seems they are happy to sit-back and let the D do its thing. This will not work against the really good teams we should expect in the playoffs.
Mike Preston: The offense has a sense of urgency. The group just didn't play well against the Jets. We knew it was going to take time to build the offense, and they've only played four games, producing well in two.
It's way too early to write this offense off, even though some of the things the Ravens do are very questionable.
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