Each week, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers questions about the Ravens' game. This week, Preston discusses the success of the run game and what's produced the change, the passing game, Ed Reed and whether he's injured and whether the Ravens can beat the Colts.
CCDerek: OK so was the Ravens' running game woes simply about patience of the running backs and waiting for the hole to open up or was this a bad Saints' run defense? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?
Mike Preston: I would say the answer lies somewhere in between. The Saints are built somewhat like the Colts, and they can get after the quarterback with all their blitz packages. But regardless, it was nice to see the Ravens run the ball well because they haven't done it most of the season. It was also great see them do it in December, because that's when it counts the most. The key now is consistency. Can they do it again, and again?
Bigrell30: Do the Ravens not have Gatorade on the sidelines after the first half? Did the conditioning coach quit? Or is it just plain arrogance that keeps leading to the Ravens blowing leads in the second half of games?
Mike Preston: Bigrell, easy. I understand your concern from the past, but the Ravens were playing the Saints. They do have an elite quarterback. They had won six straight. They can put up 25 or 30 points in a hurry on any team. Last week, there was some concern about the second-half comeback because it was Houston. Any time you play the Saints these days, and you win, it's special.
Eric: What's the deal with the Ravens passing game? Are the receivers not getting open? Is Joe too afraid to throw an interception, and is therefore holding onto the ball too long? Is Cameron's play calling suspect? Or is it all of the above?
Mike Preston: When you can run the ball effectively as the Ravens did against the Saints, who cares about a passing game? I've always been a big fan of running the football because you control the tempo, keep your defense off the field as well as the other team's offense off it. The Ravens won't be able to run like that against Pittsburgh, but the Saints weren't Pittsburgh. I have no complaints with Ravens receivers not catching a lot of passes as long as running back Ray Rice gets his touches as a runner and receiver, and the Ravens can pound the football. I'm sure Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin weren't happy with their roles Sunday, but I bet you they were happy beating the defending Super Bowl champions.
GoldenGateRaven: How hurt is Ed Reed? Liability hurt or still effective hurt?
Mike Preston: Reed is playing through several injuries. I think he plays well when everything stays in front of him, but he appears slower having to move laterally or out of the backpedal. It's basically hit or miss with Reed these days. You really don't know what to expect from game to game. On some Sundays, he can really help you. On other Sundays, he can't hurt you. He doesn't tackle with his upper body much at all, and with the injuries he has had, who can blame him?
Ryan:It was quite the treat to see Joe go off on the refs after the sack in the redzone. He was hit late, and sure let those refs know how he felt. It was good to see him show emotion and not just shrug off the play. Did you think his explosion was good for him?
Mike Preston: Rice said he was fired up because Flacco showed so much emotion. I'd like to see more fire and ager out of him as well. People often say that John Unitas or Joe Montana didn't show much emotion, but they didn't have to. They could fire a football. Flacco isn't on that level yet, so he needs to bring more to the table. Being an emotional leader is part of the criteria for being a quarterback. It's just part of the postion. No other player on the offensive side of the ball can get players juiced as much as a quarterback. That's just the way it is.
Bob: The win over the Saints was great, but again our offense in the red zone produces only field goals. I watch other teams on TV and most have little difficulty getting into the end zone. What are the Ravens doing wrong when they get into the red zone, even within the 10 yard line?
Mike Preston: The Ravens passing game is pretty vanilla, and it gets worse inside the red zone because field space is cut down. The Ravens rarely attack the middle of the field inside the red zone except for that post pattern to Boldin or Mason, and they don't use a lot of rubs or pick plays like other teams inside the red zone. Also, the running yards are tougher to get as well because the field gets smaller, and there isn't as much space. Illegal procedure penalties and effectiveness inside the red zone are two areas the Ravens definitely need to work on.
Adam: I hate to be negative after such a big win, but is there any reason to believe that the Ravens will beat the Colts in Indy in January this time?
Mike Preston: The Colts are running out of receivers, and they have also have had their share of problems on defense. But they still have Peyton Manning, and I really wouldn't want to face him in the postseason. The Colts have owned Ravens, and I'd rather them go to Kansas City than to Indianapolis. Actually, I'd prefer the Ravens to win the AFC North so we wouldn't have to travel the first week of the playoffs. That's strictly on a personal level. Am I being selfish? Of course.
Orlando: I know you felt like me when Brees had the ball with over 2 minutes left. "Here we go again." This time, though, we held them. I have been very critical of [ Greg] Mattison in the past but as the season has come along he has became a good coordinator, I see different looks from this defense every week. How do you feel about Mattison?
Mike Preston: I feel the same way about Mattison as I feel about Cam Cameron. I don't agree with everything they do, but overall they have done a good job. Mattison blitzed a lot more in the Saints game, and the Ravens were in an attacking mode, instead of rushing only three or four all the time, and dropping seven or eight into coverage. That's the way this team has to play all the time both offensively and defensively. In the NFL, there is only one mode, attack. What people need to keep in mind with Mattison is that the Ravens don't have the same number of playmakers from previous years. He does the best with what he has, and I think he might be listening to the players more instead of going at it alone. The players are in agreement that the best style for the Ravens is to run the ball on offense, and bring pressure on defense. You can't do that all the time defensively, but you can't go into a prevent mode full-time like the Ravens did in the second half against Houston.