Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions after the Ravens' 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Boyne: The defense looks to have lost its swagger, the way it did when Greg Mattison took over for Rex Ryan. Is the defense suffering due to the injuries and loss of players to free agency, or is this a matter of Dean Pees not being an effective coach?
Mike Preston: It seems like the Ravens have lost a defensive coordinator every year for about a decade going back to Marvin Lewis. Combined with the loss of key veterans and the usual aging process, it has finally taken its toll on the Ravens and they have to rebuild the defense. It might take a year or two, but the Ravens have to focus on rebuilding much like they did with the offense when they used first-round picks to select Ben Grubbs, Michael Oher and Joe Flacco. They also used a high pick to select Ray Rice. Everything in the NFL usually works in cycles, and now it's time for the Ravens to invest in defensive players.
Andy In Hagerstown: We are now into our bye week and our offense continues to befuddle. The Ravens and Joe Flacco are world beaters at home and can be downright brutal on the road. Some of the disparities in statistics are by far the starkest in the NFL. These would include Flacco's stats as well as more pedestrian stats like time of possession and scoring. What do John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron need to do to fix the systemic issues we seem to face when playing offense on the road?
Mike Preston: First of all, they have to know when to pull the plug on the passing game. When Flacco is having a bad game, they have to take the ball out of his hands and give it to Rice more. They have to get a better balance of run versus pass, and not give up on the run so quickly. Against quality defensive teams like the Texans or the Eagles, the Ravens have to be able to read and react quickly, especially the offensive line. The Ravens also have to find a way to beat man-to-man coverage against their receivers.
I think Flacco is a good quarterback and is having a pretty good season, but he doesn't play well enough on a weekly basis to carry the offense. At this point, the best option might be more Rice, less Flacco.
Brian from Silverdale, Wash.: Why did the OC give up on using Ray Rice in the first quarter of the game? I know they are 5-2 and are in first place, but this offense is so frustrating this year. They have no identity!
Mike Preston: The OC, also known as Cam Cameron, got away from the run too quickly. He has confidence in Flacco and wants to build the offense around him, but Flacco isn't that type of quarterback, like a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. When Flacco is bad, he can take down his team. Judging from coach John Harbaugh's comments Monday, maybe the Ravens have learned that and will stick with Rice longer. A run-dominated offense could help the defense, which has struggled the past three games against both the run and pass.
Brian Williams in Burtonsville: I would like to know why the Ravens persist in using the bunch formation. I never see anything good come from it. I understand the concept; they just can't seem to execute it.
Mike Preston: If you can't pass block, you can munch, crunch or bunch, and it won't matter. The formation wasn't the problem Sunday. The Ravens couldn't pass block and Flacco had a poor day.
The coaches have said the defensive players are having trouble getting off blocks. Why are they not doing more stunts, twists, and other ways to confuse the offense? I would think more movement would hide where the defense is coming from and hide some of the issues the defense has.
Mike Preston: I saw stunts, movement and slants. I also saw the Ravens defensive linemen failing to get off blocks after engaging. We can talk about all the different strategies you want, but it comes down to winning one-on-one matchups. The Ravens failed to do that and also keep offensive linemen off their inside linebackers. Harbaugh has talked about making changes, and it might be time to insert some of the younger players like defensive linemen Bryan Hall and DeAngelo Tyson.
Steven in Randallstown: Terrence Cody just seems like a big body to me. No power. No strength. No tenacity ... Just pudding. 350 pounds of diet pudding. He was getting blown off of the ball. Is Cody really that weak or it is just a technique problem? I guess this question is also for the entire D-line except Haloti Ngata.
Mike Preston: Sorry, Steven. "Puddin" is the nickname former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams has given Paul Kruger. But we can't just isolate Cody. Defensive linemen Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee haven't gotten it done either. These guys just don't get off blocks. They lay on people. I think it's a combination of several things, from lack of intensity to using the proper technique. It's hard watching these guys get knocked off the ball and back into the linebackers week after week.
It has to change if the Ravens are to get better.
James: Is Cary Williams as bad a corner as I think he is? I really think he's the worst DB I’ve ever seen play. I’d be willing to bet if you looked at the numbers, literally 80 percent of the time his receiver is targeted, the result of the play is a completion, and that 20 percent left over is usually due to a bad throw. Please tell me that although he gives up a lot of completions, he's doing something I’m not noticing for the defense.
Mike Preston: James, if you think Williams is that bad, go back a few years and remember Frank Walker, Ike Booth or DeRon Jenkins. They were some sorry corners. Williams got picked on early in the season because he played opposite Lardarius Webb, and few teams went after Webb. The good news is that with Jimmy Smith filling in for Webb, Williams won't get picked on as much. The bad news is that teams can now attack the entire field again.
Williams hasn't played well, but he might improve if the Ravens could get a consistent pass rush.
Mark A. Frazier Sr.: Why do the Ravens corners play so far off of the other team’s receivers? They don't seem to get close until after they catch the ball. Why don't we play press coverage?
Mike Preston: They can't press, Mark. They are too soft and don't jam receivers off the line of scrimmage. It's not a physical group. At the beginning of training camp, the secondary was expected to be the strongest defensive unit. Now it's just as bad as the others. I think if the Ravens thought they could be physical at the point of attack, they would be. Apparently, the Ravens don't believe that.
Right now, I'll just settle for them not getting beat by double moves.
Joe (Boston): Are we at a point now, after the Texans and Dallas games, that we have to conclude that the fundamental flaws of the current Ravens team started with an overestimation of the existing talent on the team that led to one too many offseason free-agent departures? I can’t help but wonder if we really needed to keep at least Ben Grubbs and preferably Jarret Johnson in order to compete.
Mike Preston: That's hindsight now. The Ravens have been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL for more than a decade and they've usually had good transition periods with veterans leaving and the youngsters playing. So far this year, it hasn't turned out that way, but there is still a slim chance.
I think the Ravens can do a better job drafting, but overall I'd take their staff over 90 percent of the others in the NFL when it comes to selecting college players.
Scott in N.C.: As Ravens fans we are accustomed to the young draft choices stepping up and performing well in years two and up, thereby filling in gaps when the veterans seek big bucks elsewhere and move on. This necessary strategy has worked well, but top defensive picks since 2008 haven't lived up to expectations. Is the magic of picking defensive players in the draft gone? Our most recent top defensive picks have been Terrence Cody, Jimmy Smith, Arthur Jones, Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Tavares Gooden. We need the magic to return.
Mike Preston: Drafting players is a gamble. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. If I were a betting man going to Vegas, I'd sure like to have Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta on my side. Sure, some of the guys you have mentioned have not panned out for the Ravens, but only Smith is a first-round pick and he is only in his second year.
I would say some of the magic has faded, but like I mentioned earlier, things in the NFL work in cycles. I believe the Ravens will fix the problem even though it might take a year or two.