12:23 PM EST, January 17, 2012
Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 20-13 win over the Houston Texans, and the team's upcoming AFC championship game matchup with the New England Patriots.
Paul: I love your column, but you wrote that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren't the players they once were and should make way for some younger players. What do you think now?
Mike Preston: Paul, let me give you a little history lesson here. I was hired by The Sun to give commentary, not to be a cheerleader. If you ask the early players like Michael McCrary, Jonathan Ogden, Wally Williams, Rob Burnett, Brad Jackson or Jamal Lewis, they know I will write about sensitive issues or concerns. When outside linebacker Terrell Suggs struggled years ago, I criticized him. When offensive tackle Michael Oher struggled early this season, I wrote about it. When place kicker Billy Cundiff had problems at the midway point, I suggested the team go out and sign another kicker. So when I saw Ray Lewis and Ed Reed struggling for nearly a month, I wrote about it.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not afraid to take on issues or make suggestions. Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not afraid to second-guess a head coach or a coordinator because I get paid by the Ravens. I don't suck up to players and worry about them appearing on my radio show. I don't care what players say about me because I just do my job. It was a tough column to write and I knew there would be significant fan backlash. But guess what? I didn't give a damn. Never have, never will. Both of those players knew they had not played up to par during the last month and Reed even admitted it after the game. I expected them to play extremely well Sunday.
Because that's what great players do. They respond when challenged. I didn't write the column to motivate them; I wrote it because it was an issue. People had been talking about it, but I just wrote it. If they continue to play well, then they deserve to stay on the field. If they both come back and they both don't play well for a month, I will write about it again.
If you don't believe me, go ask players like Ogden, Williams, Lewis, Jackson and Suggs. It's my job.
Aaron in Florida: What has happened to the offensive line? The blocking [Sunday] for both the run and pass was terrible.
Mike Preston: Bottom line: They got their butts kicked by a physically superior defensive line. But it wasn't just on the offensive side. The Ravens got smacked around on both sides of the ball by a young and talented Houston team.
Richard in Dallas: Chuck Pagano has blitzed early and often before ... and if I remember correctly, it worked!!! Why has he backed off of the blitz so much, especially against a newby QB in T.J. Yates? I know the Ravens had three picks (not because of pressure!), but if they don't bring significant pressure on Tom Brady, he might throw six TDs again.
Mike Preston: The Ravens got the early lead on Houston, so I'm assuming Pagano didn't see the need to continue blitzing and possibly giving up a big play. I understand that, but I would have stayed after Yates until about the end of the third quarter. As for Brady, the Ravens have to give him multiple looks, multiple fronts and different things to digest. You can't just blitz him every play or constantly stay in zone or man coverage. Ideally, the Ravens need to get pressure with their front four and that would take a lot of pressure off the linebackers and secondary. It sounds easy, but Brady is one of the best to ever play the game.
Phil in Annapolis: Is all the criticism of Joe Flacco after the Texans game completely fair? Without the five drops, he's 19 for 27 (a completion percentage just over 70%) for somewhere around 230 yards and two TDs, and we'd likely be hearing how Flacco has finally turned the corner and is ready to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Should we expect better numbers next week against a much weaker Patriots defense?
Mike Preston: I thought Flacco had an average game. His pocket awareness and knowing when to secure the ball still needs to improve. But overall, he threw the ball well and you are right Phil, he did have a couple of dropped passes. Of the offensive players, Flacco was one of the better ones on the field Sunday. As for this Sunday, his numbers have to improve for the Ravens to beat the Patriots. In the second half of this season, I think Flacco has played well and done what was asked of him in the system. I think he will have a good day against New England.
AC in Forestville: Watching [Sunday's] game, I couldn't help but notice how out-coached Cam Cameron was by Wade Phillips. Cam seemed to have nothing for their blitz packages and never made adjustments such as rolling out Flacco or going with draw plays, maybe even fake a reverse. Also, what was his reasoning for throwing twice late in the game with around three minutes left. Why not run clock? If the play-calling is similar next week, the Ravens will get hammered. What are your thoughts?
Mike Preston: AC, I agree, the Ravens could have done more with rolling Flacco out. I thought they could have used some more running plays inside, allowing the offensive linemen to double-team more or use a trap or whatever to slow down the Texans. There has to be more to the Ravens' running game than stretch left, stretch right. But with that said, when you're getting whipped as bad as the Ravens were, very little was going to work.
The Ravens had 15 possessions, and nine ended in punts. They had nine possessions end in a total of 22 yards, even though two ended in short touchdowns. They also had nine possessions that ended in three-and-outs. It was a horrendous performance all the way around, down from the coaching staff to the players. At least going into New England, the Patriots defense won't be as strong. But after watching the Ravens play Sunday, there has to be major concern about the offense.
As for the two throws late in the game, according to the Ravens, running play were called, but Flacco changed them to passing plays because Houston was prepared to use run blitzes. Flacco should have stayed with the run anyway and used up some time, or forced the Texans to use timeouts. If those passes get tipped or intercepted and returned for a touchdown, fans would have run Cameron out of town even though he didn't make the calls.
When Flacco threw the first one, the slant to Anquan Boldin, I laughed when they showed Ray Lewis on the sideline. He looked totally baffled. If there is truth to the speculation that Flacco doesn't call his own plays, maybe we found out why.
Bryan in Pax River: To start the second half, Ricky Williams ran hard and straight for about 4 yards three times to get the Ravens a much-needed first down. When they needed to get in the end zone on fourth down, Ray Rice got stood up by a linebacker in a hole. I'm starting to wonder why Rice is used in short-yardage stuff, especially against a good defense like this one. Should they have used Ricky for that fourth down? Do the Ravens need to wake up to this downside to Rice? Or am I out of my mind? Thanks.
Mike Preston: In all honesty, they have to get better blocking up front. Short yardage is all about attitude. It's a pride thing for offensive linemen and the Ravens got whipped. It was embarrassing, especially for a group that prides itself on run blocking. Hopefully they were ashamed of the performance and rebound Sunday.
Jane Riley: When did the NFL officially decide that holding is no longer a penalty? I don't think I've seen a flag for holding in weeks! What's up? I think that's why all of these quarterbacks are having record seasons.
Mike Preston: It's been ridiculous in the postseason. They usually call it when it involves an outside linebacker or end because everybody sees it, but both teams were holding and mugging each other Sunday. There needs to be more holding calls made inside the guard-to-guard and center areas, but now it has gotten out of control. It's so bad that defensive tackles have stopped complaining.
Joe: Yet another win for the Ravens, yet this year just doesn't have that usual "magical" feeling to it, and this was another victory where I was dissatisfied despite the fact that we won. Can you explain how the Ravens are in the AFC championship game, have won a playoff game for the fourth straight year, and yet I still do not trust this team or our quarterback? They simply just don't seem to have "it"... whatever "it" is.
Mike Preston: Joe, I feel your pain. Of the four teams remaining, only the Ravens seem to not be peaking. Before Sunday's game, there was a two-week buildup of euphoria surrounding this team. And then came Sunday. It was a poor performance by the Ravens and they still won, but there is now pessimism around town. I expected the Ravens to perform better Sunday too, especially after having the bye. But after watching this team for four years, it's still the same stuff. The Ravens are like a box of Cracker Jacks. You open it up, and you never know what you're going to get inside. They are ugly at times and frustrating to watch, but they play hard. They have so much balance and because they play hard they find a way to win. After watching both teams play Sunday, I would say the Patriots appeared to be the better team. But things change from week to week in the NFL. If the Patriots blew the Ravens out Sunday, I wouldn't be surprised. If the Ravens won, I wouldn't be shocked either.
The Ravens are the Ravens. They must be doing something right because they are in the AFC championship game. I say sit back and enjoy the game. Anything can happen.
Terri in Kingsville: Is Brendon Ayanbadejo the type of linebacker that could effectively cover either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez? I’m thinking BA because he’s heavier than a safety and a cornerback and he’s pretty fast. Your thoughts, please?
Mike Preston: Terri, I'm not sure the Ravens have anyone who can cover those two down the field. I assume Bernard Pollard would be a good matchup mentally and physically. Ed Reed can cover anybody physically, but there are few that can match up with both of those guys physically.
Brian: The offensive line still can't handle a decent pass rush. Receivers, notably Ed Dickson, keep dropping passes. The defense can't get pressure on QBs anymore, and is now showing vulnerabilities to the run, too. Are there any reasons for optimism next week that aren't centered around a game that happened two years ago?
Mike Preston: Yep, the Ravens are 13-4. That's pretty impressive and I bet the Ravens have the Patriots' attention, regardless of how ugly they play. Whenever these two teams play, the games are usually close.
My suggestion for the Ravens coaching staff is to keep doing what they have been doing. So far this week, these guys have been very up-tight. They are worrying more about what is being said or printed by the media instead of coaching their teams. Loosen up, fellas.
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