Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Richard in Dallas: Ray Rice broke one good run (that counted). How do you assess the running game without that one burst?

Mike Preston: Overall, the Ravens had 100 yards rushing, so I consider it a good day. No. 1, the running game helped keep the Bengals off balance so they couldn't just go after quarterback Joe Flacco. The running game also helped Flacco in the passing game. Flacco is usually at his best with the play-action game, which is why the Ravens had the big strike to Torrey Smith. Also, when you pound the ball, you wear down the opposition and at the same time you are giving your defense a chance to rest.

So Richard, overall, a good offensive day with balance and opportunities.

Vik in Baltimore: How would you assess Jimmy Smith's performance? He looked to be playing as physical as advertised coming out of college. His interception reminded me of an interception Ed Reed had his rookie year (also against the Bengals) when he fumbled inside the 10-yard line. He also got beat deep on a touchdown, but it is a lot to ask for a rookie to play 1-on-1 with an all-out blitz. Frankly, I'm glad he got that learning experience during a winning performance.

Mike Preston: If you want to evaluate Jimmy Smith, go back and look at Lardarius Webb's rookie year. Smith is big, physical and can run stride for stride with anyone. But like Webb, he is super aggressive. And like Webb during his rookie year, he tries to jump routes and isn't always patient. Smith gave up the long ball because he looked like he has squatted anticipating a short pattern, and then the Bengals went deep on him. Remember how Webb used to get beat because of double moves during his rookie season?

I still think Smith is going to be a good player. If he keeps his nose clean off the field, the sky is the limit.

Paul from Cape Cod: All of a sudden the pass rush has disappeared. Are teams ready for what we are doing or is it lack of execution?

Mike Preston: I think it's a combination of both. Ten games into the season, the opposition has gotten a good look at some of the new wrinkles implemented by first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. They've made adjustments and now it's time for Pagano and the Ravens to re-adjust. Also, Cincy has a good, physical offensive line. They've got a rookie quarterback, and they are protecting him. Another thing you might want to factor in is the best way to throw the ball against the Ravens are the quick release passes. Tennessee did a good job of it against the Ravens, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has a really good, quick release.

Overall, the pass rush has been pretty good for most of the season. It has dropped off in the past two games, but it's not time to panic. Instead, it's time to be creative and give other teams some credit. Actually, I've been surprised by the pass-rushing abilities of Paul Kruger and rookie Pernell McPhee. Kruger has really turned up his game from a year ago.

Howard from Florida: It seems that every time the Ravens put Pernell McPhee in the game he either pressures or sacks the quarterback. Paul Kruger has been doing a good job of this, too. Other than Suggs no one else seems to get near the quarterback other than on a blitz. My question is why don't the Ravens consider going to a 4-3 defense with McPhee and Kruger alternating on one side or replace Cory Redding with one on each side. As it is the Ravens inside linebackers are weak on passing plays. Even the "Great One" should no longer be on the field.

Mike Preston: Oh, oh, Howard. Are you saying No. 52 doesn't belong on the field on third and long? How dare you? That is blasphemy. How dare you?

All kidding aside, one of the reasons you play a 3-4 over a 4-3 is because you have more good outside linebackers than you have defensive ends. The Ravens have always liked tweeners -- guys who are too small to play defensive end and too big to be outside linebackers. With Ray Lewis, you either rush him on third down or get him off the field. He can only jump short, inside routes at this point in his career. McPhee and Kruger aren't strong enough to handle full-time roles at the end positions. I like the way the Ravens use both at this point, and McPhee has the type of body you can build on. Kruger might be a situational player for the rest of his career.

The Ravens do a nice job of substituting players up front. I like the rotation. The problem here in Baltimore is that fans are so used to seeing dominating defenses that they expect to see it every week. I think there is a concern about the lack of pass rush during the past two games, but not enough to facilitate a change in alignment or philosophies. If it's broke, give the Ravens a chance to fix it.

Bob K.: It seems that since Haloti Ngata signed his new contract, he has all but disappeared from the Ravens defense. Before, he was causing havoc and fumbles from the opposition. Now we rarely hear his name. Has he digressed in the same manner as Terrell Suggs after he signed his contract a couple years ago?

Mike Preston: Bob, are you insinuating that Ngata is a dog? A big dog?

Come on, man.

Ngata is one of the best defensive players in the game. If I was an offensive coordinator and drawing up my running game for the week, the first person I put a hat, maybe two on, is Ngata. I think he was so dominant in the first half of the season that he is drawing a lot of attention, and that's the way it should be. I also think that when you play on the defensive line you have to overcome a lot of injuries throughout the season, injuries that the media and public are not aware of.

Ngata is a pro. He isn't going to complain. Despite the lockout, he had a great offseason of conditioning and came to training camp in the best shape of his career. There are some guys that might take a play off now and then, but Ngata isn't one of them. The guy is a beast 24-7. There are certain players whose desire to play and win you never question, like No. 52, Ed Reed or Jarret Johnson. Ngata is one of them.

Jason T.: Dear Big Mike -- Can you comment on the play of Lardarius Webb this season, and the strides he has made from last year? Can you make a case for Webb being a possible Pro Bowl selection?

Mike Preston: Pro Bowl in 2011? Nah, not yet.

But I like the way he has played. Since giving up that long pass in the Pittsburgh playoff game a year ago, Webb has been on a mission. The kid plays with fire, but now under control compared to previous seasons. He is fearless coming up in run support and plays much bigger than he looks. The kid has a huge upside, and he will only get better.

Henry in Woodbine: Why do they continue to throw to Vonta Leach? Either find a new pass pattern or throw to someone else. There are plenty of weapons on this team.

Mike Preston: The Ravens should put the play on the trash heap with the reverse and bring it out every three or four games. At this point, I've seen enough. I must admit, though, it's good for comic relief.

Michael S.: Mike -- Very much enjoy your work and your Ravens grades each week. I wonder why our kickoff and punt returns are so anemic. We seem to be satisfied when we just hold onto the ball. I can't recall how often we have had any productivity there -- a kickoff return to the 40, 50 or any threat at all to take it all the way. Seems that this could help quite a bit occasionally given our inconsistent offense, and seems strange since Harbaugh is an old special teams guy. Is it talent? Blocking schemes? Lack of a priority?

Mike Preston: The Ravens need to find consistent return specialists. For three to four years now, it's been like a revolving door because they either can't stay healthy or hold onto the football. They change return guys like we change socks. The key is having some confidence and learning to know each others' strengths and weaknesses, like and dislikes. Right now, they have no continuity and chemistry.

Jesse: Am I the only person who is almost relieved that the Ravens aren't playing an "inferior" team following the big win?

Mike Preston: Nope, there are thousands like you. I think it's unfair that the Ravens or any other NFL team should play another game within four days, but maybe this helps the Ravens develop that badly needed sense of urgency. If John Harbaugh plays the psychology game well, he should tell his players that this will only help them get ready for the playoffs when they have to play back-to-back quality teams.

Mike M.: Do you think Jim Harbaugh will stay with brother John while he is in town? How much of an effect will the short rest between Sunday and Thursday have on the team and game plan? Should true fans skip the turkey so they are alert at the game?

Mike Preston: I don't care what the Harbaughs do when Jim comes to town. The 49ers are at a huge disadvantage because they are traveling from the West Coast already on a short week. And finally, my game plan is to eat as much turkey as possible, have family members roll me to the press box, watch a great game and then go home and kill the leftovers.

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