Tom in West Palm Beach: It appears the Ravens will head into the postseason as one of the top seeds. But each week, even in wins, a weakness -- often a major one -- rears its head. On Sunday, it was a failure to seize opportunities in the first half and put the game away early. Other weeks, it has been a late failure by the defense and turnovers (Seattle), lack of execution at the goal line (San Francisco), or series of dropped passes (second Pittsburgh game). I know perfection is unrealistic. But do these lapses concern you and what do you feel is the Ravens' biggest weakness headed toward the playoffs, and how do they correct it?
Mike Preston: Tom, every game exposes some sort of weakness because there is no such thing as the perfect game. My two biggest concerns for this team are its ineffectiveness to score touchdowns in the red zone, and that the secondary has given up big plays the last couple of weeks. The big plays have to be a result of communication problems, because there have been times when receivers were left wide open.
On offense, the Ravens had several opportunities against Cleveland but sometimes they dropped passes or their receivers looked confused. By that, there were times when they were in the same area or even tripping over each other. The only thing you can do is keep practicing. The failures are not from a lack of talent or poor play-calling, but simple execution. Pardon me if I sound like John Harbaugh or Cam Cameron, but it's true.
Paul from Cape Cod: Remember the good old days when Unitas was quarterback and it was third-and-short and everyone expected a run and he would fake to the running back and launch one to Orr or Berry? How come Cam never calls anything like that? He's so predictable. Doesn't he have faith in Joe? It's not only winning, but how you win, isn't it?
Mike Preston: There are always several plays a game that any coach would want to take back. But in the last couple of games, the Ravens seem to have found their identity as far as putting the ball in the hands of playmaker Ray Rice. Sometimes Cameron out smarts himself, especially in goal line situations, but he has been fairly spot-on the last three or four games.
As far as winning, the Ravens are 9-3. As long as they continue to improve, there will be fewer complaints from me.
MG in VA: Lots of good play from the Ravens over the past few weeks. One area that I'm a little concerned about is the frequency of deep passes against our secondary. Too often, the opposing receivers are getting behind our safeties, especially Ed Reed. Are teams taking advantage of our coverage play calls? Is Reed cheating too much and not playing deep enough? What are your observations in this area? Thanks.
Mike Preston: The Ravens are working rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith back into the lineup, and he has been the victim of several big plays lately. The Ravens were hoping he would make these mistakes early in the season, but the high ankle sprain injury forced him to miss a lot of time. Unfortunately, he is going to make those mistakes now and the Ravens want to get them corrected heading into the postseason. Smith is going to be a really good player. Next year, with Smith and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens could have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Mike Preston: I don't think Williams is lost. I think he gets picked on because Webb is playing so well. I would go after him, too. Maybe near the tail end of the season Smith might replace Williams. But right now Smith is a liability because he doesn't completely understand the defense, and we've seen that in recent weeks. I think Webb and Williams will remain the starters for a game or two, and Smith plays the nickel. As far as a fourth corner, I would use Haruki Nakamura over Carr. Nakamura is playing extremely well on special teams, and the Ravens need to find a way to get the kid on the field more often.
Stevie B.: Do you feel our defense right now is better with Ray Lewis not playing at all? Do you think Ray’s long-term replacement is currently on the Ravens’ roster? If so, who is that player? Thanks.
Mike Preston: I can't honestly say the defense is better, but the group has played well without him. It bodes well for the future, because the Ravens now have the confidence that they can play without Lewis. It's been a win-win situation for the Ravens because the defense hasn't missed a beat and Lewis has been allowed time to heal without having to rush back. I've been talking about Dannell Ellerbe for two years now, and if he grows up, like reporting to training camp in shape, he could be Lewis' future replacement. Lewis had become a liability on third down passing situations, so getting Brendon Ayanbadejo or Albert McClelland on the field in those situations has worked out well for the team.
Mike Preston: With Smith, you worry about a rookie hitting the proverbial wall. I like the way the Ravens have slowly worked Evans back into the rotation. You don't sit Smith immediately, because it hurts his confidence. You also have to bring Evans along slowly, because you're still concerned about the injury and if he will remain healthy for the remainder of the year. I like all three guys in the three-receiver package, and it's frightening when all three are on the field with tight end Ed Dickson. In that package, the Ravens have a lot of speed and home run hitters on the field as well as Anquan Boldin.
Mike Preston: No McMcNabb, no Brett Favre. The Ravens should remain status quo and continue to use Taylor in the goal line situation. They should keep him in the shotgun and allow him to run outside putting pressure on defenses. I thought that was a good move by the Ravens on Sunday against the Browns.
Jeff: Assuming the Ravens win their remaining games, and the Patriots and Texans win their remaining games, where would the Ravens be seeded? All three teams would have the same record against conference opponents at 10-2 each. Would the head-to-head tie breaker apply to the Ravens win against the Texans? I'm hearing that head-to-head doesn't matter when it's a three-way tie. Thanks Mike!
Mike Preston: Jeff, I just had this discussion with a fellow reporter Monday morning. We've seen and heard so many things. We went back and forth so many times that we started getting headaches. So, we both decided, or at least I did, that we'll worry about it at the end of the season because so many things can still happen. Instead of having your blood pressure rise over the situation, I suggest you sit back and enjoy the run. This is an exciting time and it's going to go down to the wire with Pittsburgh, the Ravens and Patriots.
After being on the road with the Ravens in the postseason during the last three years, it would be nice to have a bye or a playoff game(s) in Baltimore. In all honesty, I wouldn't want to play in New England. The Patriots don't lose a lot at home, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets more home cooking with the officials than any coach since Don Shula was in Miami.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The NFL's tiebreaking rules for seeding division champions with the same record goes as follows.
- Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
- Strength of victory.
- Strength of schedule.
- Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
- Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
- Best net points in conference games.
- Best net points in all games.
- Best net touchdowns in all games.
- Coin toss
Bill S.: Is there any chance the Ravens will reconsider moving training camp to Owings Mills? This just seems like such a bad public relations decision. It's an intangible thing, but getting up close to the fans at Westminster has always seemed to be part of the Ravens' appeal, something that may not seem like a big deal in winning years, but something they may regret during down periods.
Mike Preston: No, right now Harbaugh is king of the castle. He wants to remain at Owings Mills, and the team will grant him his wishes. I agree with you that things work in cycles. But this is like the 99 percent versus the one percent. The fans want training camp to remain in Westminster, but the one percent, the corporate monster, doesn't care. They are going to do what is best for them, not the fans. It is what it is, but I couldn't see former owner Art Modell allowing this to happen.
Joe: With Indy coming to town this weekend, can we please be spared from the inevitable Sun article lamenting the Colts leaving town? You know ... the one where they find that one guy in a diner somewhere outside the city that still holds a grudge and won't watch football anymore. Can we please spare our beloved Ravens the mistaken impression that we want the old Colts back? Ravens Nation has moved on and is fully behind OUR team, The Baltimore RAVENS. Can we give our Ravens some love here? Pretty please?
Mike Preston: Joe, I understand, but can we please get rid of the Ravens Nation bit? It's corny. I'd prefer not to read any of those old Colts leaving town stories as well. All the media outlets in town have run those story lines into the ground. I heard a couple of the old broadcasters in Cleveland talking about the old Browns/Ravens situation over the weekend, and that plucked my nerves as well. It's over folks and time to move on. I'll forward your request to the powers that be at The Sun, but I'm just a mild mannered sports columnist who never has an opinion (wink, wink).