Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 26-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Bob K.: How can a team look so good against an excellent team last week (Steelers) and so horrible against an average team (Titans) this week? Overconfidence? Poor preparation? Your thoughts, please.
Mike Preston: Football is an emotional sport, and against Pittsburgh the Ravens played with eight months of pent-up anger after the Steelers eliminated them in the playoffs last season. The Ravens played with playoff intensity and the Steelers couldn't match it. The Titans lost their season opener, and their backs were against the wall playing in front of the home crowd for the first time in 2011. The Titans treated this as a big game, and Tennessee coach Mike Munchak broke out the old clips of the Titans-Ravens and built it as a rivalry.
Not only did Tennessee play with more emotion, but the Titans had a better game plan and their staff out-coached the Ravens. They had big receivers who were physically better than the Ravens' small cornerbacks, and Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was patient in picking the Ravens apart, partly because of the lack of pressure. The Titans beat the Ravens like the Ravens beat Pittsburgh. It was a complete butt-whipping.
The Ravens were beaten soundly in every phase of the game. You can't point fingers because you only have two hands.
Nate: It appears that Marshal Yanda is making the line calls on offense, and then getting set right as the ball is snapped. The timing of it seemed to allow Tennessee to jump the snap basically every play. What was going on?
Mike Preston: Nate, I don't know if Yanda was making the line calls, but he was giving some type of signal to center Matt Birk. Like you, I noticed the Titans had picked up on the Ravens' cadence and it appeared as if they knew the snap count. Coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have to review the cadence. A good quarterback will use a hard count to draw teams off sides. A major advantage for the offensive line, especially the weak-side tackle, is to get a good jump, but the Ravens lost that advantage several times against Tennessee.
Ben: What do you think led to the drop in performance of the offensive line from Week 1 to Week 2? What can we expect going forward?
Mike Preston: Against Pittsburgh, Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison had been slowed because of offseason surgery, and that helped Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie. The absence of left guard Ben Grubbs definitely hurt the Ravens against the Titans. He is more athletic and can run better than replacement Mark LeVoir and right guard Marshal Yanda. Without Grubbs, the Ravens lost their best pulling guard, which limits them on screens, pitches, tosses and any other play where a guard operates in space.
In all honesty, you knew this offensive line was going to struggle early in the season. But for the Ravens to be successful and to mask weaknesses on both offense and defense, this team is going to have to run the ball. If they don't, they won't get far. Also, tackle play from McKinnie and Michael Oher has to improve from Sunday. In another two weeks, we'll get a better barometer of how good this group can become.
Eric: Are the Ravens still very slow getting plays called and coming out of the huddle, especially when there is some urgency to move the ball? Example: In the fourth quarter, Lee Evans catches a 33-yard pass with about 10:31 on the clock. In the next two minutes, the Ravens run two plays, one of which was a 2-yard run by Ricky Williams. Down by two scores, shouldn't they be a little crisper getting plays in and getting to the line? This seems to have been a problem the last couple years.
Mike Preston: That problem bothers me because the Ravens use a clock in practice. But on Sunday and trailing by 10, and later 13 points, they took their good, sweet time getting to the line of scrimmage. They played as if they had a lead instead of being behind. It was poor game management, and this shouldn't happen to an NFL team. After last season, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti basically ordered a face lift for the offense. I think after Sunday, he had to write down a note on the Ravens' time management. It was irritating wondering why the Ravens didn't go to a no-huddle to try and jump start this offense, but equally painful watching them stroll to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter as if they were taking a walk in the park. Coaches are to blame, but a quarterback has to take charge as well.
Pete: Why does it seem like Cam Cameron is unwilling or unable to change his offensive game plan when it's clear that it's failing? The Titans dominated our run-blocking scheme in the first half and had our receivers' routes on lock-down. I know I'm not an expert here, but it seems like common sense that if something isn't working, you should try something different. Why didn't we get Ray Rice to the outside or get him going behind some power-run sets? Why did we wait until midway through the fourth quarter to spread our receivers out? I'm so confused, but sadly not surprised since this was a complete repeat of our offense last year.
Mike Preston: I wouldn't have given up on the run early either, but I would have done some other things. The Ravens have speed, so why not use some slant-ins, bubble screens or hitches to David Reed, Lee Evans or Torrey Smith to see if they can turn a short gainer into a big play? I probably would have gone with a no-huddle late in the third or early in the fourth to try to get some type of rhythm going with Joe Flacco and his receivers. But in Cameron's defense, if you're getting your butt whipped at the line of scrimmage, it really doesn't make a difference what you run. And the Ravens were getting handled up front, especially at the tackle, left guard and center positions. If this was a dog fight, the Ravens' pup stayed home.
Justin: Do you honestly think Joe Flacco is good enough to carry this team to a championship? I feel like Joe does really well at times, but I do question his football IQ. It seems every year I keep hearing about the receivers not getting open, but how much of it falls on Joe?
Mike Preston: Not picking on you Justin, but I love it when fans who didn't watch the game in person say receivers weren't getting open or weren't getting separation. There is no way in hell anybody sitting in front of their TV set can tell that. It's impossible, but that's a major complaint from the Titans game.
Now that I got that out of the way, Flacco is good enough to win a championship, but no, he can't carry a team like a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. In Baltimore, fans need to accept the fact that Flacco is a good quarterback, not a great one. I still say the ceiling for him is probably a Tony Romo, and certainly not better than Philip Rivers. Joe is Joe. Saying that, I understand what makes him good, but there are limitations, and he probably has hit his ceiling in Baltimore working with the current staff.
I thought Flacco might have gotten over the hump with the strong showing against Pittsburgh, but he was disappointing against Tennessee. It was too much of a drop-off for a quarterback in his fourth season. With a strong running game and a strong defense, Flacco is good enough to win a Super Bowl. If Trent Dilfer, Phil Simms and Bob Griese can win Super Bowls, so can Flacco.
David: After two games it is painfully obvious that the Ravens do not have anyone who has stepped up as the third receiver. When is it time to see what Tandon Doss can do? He looked much better than Torrey Smith in the preseason.
Mike Preston: My candidate for No. 3 receiver is the same guy who starts at tight end: Ed Dickson. David Reed can't stay healthy, Smith hasn't been impressive and Doss isn't going to pull away from many defensive backs. Doss would be better in a better offensive scheme, but I don't see him having much of an impact here in Baltimore unless they game plan around him more, and that hasn't happened under the present staff.
Law: Why do the Ravens cornerbacks play 10-to-12 yards off the ball, even in the red zone? It looked like pitch and catch at times against the Titans.
Mike Preston: The Titans were too physical for the Ravens to try and press at the line of scrimmage. If you've got a big, physical corner like Jimmy Smith, you can jam receivers. When you're small like the Ravens, you play off because you don't want to give up the big plays. Plus, to beat strong defensive teams like the Ravens and Steelers, you better have patient quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Few teams have both, and that's why both teams have been successful. Very few teams can put together three or four long drives in a game against Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Tennessee, though, passed the test.
Joe: Do you get the feeling the Ravens coaching staff will slip back into that 'outsmarting themselves' mode? I mean, sometimes you have to do what the other side knows you're going to do, but a good team gets it done anyway.
Mike Preston: Joe, can't answer that one. Against Tennessee, I just wish they had been smart.
Matthew: Did you ever think two weeks ago that the Bengals would be division leaders after Week 2 and the Steelers would be last (Ravens own the tiebreaker, Browns have better conference record)?
Mike Preston: No, not even with Steven Spielberg's imagination.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun