Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers reader questions on the Ravens' 16-13 overtime win ove the San Diego Chargers.
Eric in Jacksonville: Mike, give it to us straight: Did the San Diego defense just play inspired or did the Ravens offense just play totally uninspired? Maybe (likely) both? And is the cause of this offensive mess (ambiguity on purpose) Cam Cameron, Joe Flacco, the offensive line, other, or all of the above?
Mike Preston: The Ravens offensive line couldn’t handle the Chargers up front during three quarters of the game and then San Diego went more to a prevent look after the lead midway in the fourth. Dumb move. Flacco is a streaky QB, and he got hot late in the game and into overtime and the offensive line had a better performance.
As for this offense, it is a mess, and unpredictable. I think Cameron is caught in no-man’s land because he wants to have a throwing offense, but doesn’t have a quarterback or an offensive line strong enough to carry it. I haven’t been impressed with the scheme either, and the Ravens have success out of failure because they always have to resort to a running game or Ray Rice, which isn’t a bad thing.
Overall, it’s a combination of average talent and average coaching with a few nuggets of stardom sprinkled in with players like Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, Vonta Leach and occasional bursts from Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith.
Jason in Baltimore: It seems that the Ravens offense is very successful on the road when they run no-huddle shotgun and spread out the defense using quick passes and halfback draws to slow down the pass rush. Should the Ravens consider using this as their base offense 60-65 percent of the time on the road to set up the play-action and runs to Ray Rice when Flacco goes under center? Also, why does Cam Cameron not attack the middle of the field?
Mike Preston: Jason, I can’t answer that question for you. I don’t think the Ravens can answer it either. The offense is a helter-skelter operation. They don’t do anything consistently well, but do just enough to get by. Some teams run the West Coast offense or the old "numbers system," but I’m not sure the Ravens have a name for their offense. We’ll call it the “Get By” offense.
When you struggle like the Ravens have struggled on the road, you go back to basics and stay safe with the running game. I assume that’s why you haven’t seen a lot of passes over the middle the past two weeks because of Flacco's struggles. They pulled the plug on him on the road until late in the San Diego game. The good thing that came out of that game is that the offense came up big late in regulation and in overtime.
Cameron let Flacco spread the ball all over the field and the Ravens took chances downfield. I think that effort helped the confidence of the offensive players, especially Flacco. He wouldn’t talk about it much, but he was frustrated with his performances on the road. Maybe this gets him out of that funk. Maybe the offense has turned the corner.
I’m not sure it has, but it’s nice to dream.
LordBern: The replacements for the injured defensive players have seemed to actually improve our defense. One such improvement is stopping the running game after Ray Lewis was sidelined. What are the chances that John Harbaugh politely tells Ray Lewis to stay on the sidelines if he's healthy enough to play this season?
Mike Preston: John won’t tell Ray that. Ray is an icon. If John sat Ray, he’d risk ruining the chemistry of this team. It’s Ray’s team and will be that way until he either leaves or retires. If Lewis put team first, he might say to Harbaugh that he likes where the defense is heading and he doesn’t want to mess things up. He could say he is available to play, but there is no reason to hurry back and another week or two would give him more time to heal.
But that ain’t happening.
Lewis will come back when he wants to come back. The Ravens live in Ray’s world, and he calls the shots. Hopefully, the rest has done him good. He was having a poor year and maybe he got a chance to see some things that he couldn’t see before. Personally, I hope it all works out for Lewis. When you have been so great for so long, you’d like to see him go out on top.
Larry: With six sacks by five different defenders in Sunday’s game against the Chargers, combined with their play at Pittsburgh last week, would you be willing to say that our defense is coming back to form?
Mike Preston: I can’t say that, but I did write a column last week saying that the Ravens were getting better little by little. Outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw have become more consistent. Both inside linebackers, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe, are making plays inside. The Ravens are more aggressive in the secondary in press coverage and even end Arthur Jones is contributing as a pass rusher.
This group is far from dominant and there still is a lot of work to be done as far as giving up big plays, especially over the middle. But a lot of progress has been made during the past month. By the end of the season, this group should be close to its peak for 2012.
Rich in Towson: Why wasn't Ray Rice in the game on the fourth-and- 1 in fourth quarter? He is our $6 million running back – shouldn't he be in for such plays? He may not be as big as Bernard Pierce, but he will look for a hole and not run into a logjam like the rookie.
Mike Preston: In that series, Rice ran up the middle for 3 yards, caught a pass in the left flat for 12, and had two more runs for 19 and 5 yards. Maybe the Ravens thought he was tired. Rice was clearly frustrated he wasn’t in the game at that time, and Rich, you raise a valid point, but I understood the need for a change. The Ravens wanted a bigger and fresher runner in the game.
It wouldn’t have made a difference. Right tackle Kelechi Osemele got beat at the point of attack and another offensive lineman was beat quickly on the backside. Even if Jim Brown or Gale Sayers were carrying the ball it wouldn’t have made a difference. The Chargers penetrated too quickly.
Howard: Why isn't more attention paid to the Ravens offensive line? I believe that the offense’s woes are directly attributed to the offensive line play. I also believe Joe Flacco could take the next step and become an "elite" QB if the offensive line would give him the standard three seconds to pass the ball. Our offensive line play has been horrible this year.
Mike Preston: The offensive line play has been average at best, but that isn’t stopping Flacco from becoming an elite quarterback. He isn’t elite because he doesn’t have the cerebral game to put him into that classification. Just look at the check-down or dump-off play to Rice against San Diego.
No elite QB doesn’t make that throw. An elite QB isn’t wired that way. That one play told me a lot about Flacco’s mental makeup. As for the offensive line, there is a lot of work to be done there. General manager Ozzie Newsome said he wanted to upgrade there after last season, but he didn’t make it happen.
That needs to change this offseason, for both Rice’s and Flacco’s sake.
Mark: Is it me or does Ed Reed seem as though he may be nursing an injury and is reluctant to tackle? He goes to the ball and delivers a big hit but then sort of bounces off and in some cases the runner gains more yardage. He seems to deliver the big hit to slow down the ball carrier and in the hopes that someone else will make the tackle. Is he hurt? Would the Ravens be better off rotating him with another safety during obvious run situations?
Mike Preston: Rotate Ed Reed? That’s funny, almost as hilarious as rotating Ray Lewis. We all know Ed’s problem and that he is trying to avoid serious injury. I think with both Reed and Lewis you have two players past their peaks, but can still occasionally make a play or two. They are reputation players now, more spiritual leaders than anything else. Like Lewis, I’d like to see Reed go out on top.
Even though he won’t be inviting me to dinner soon, Reed is still a good person. He’s a little goofy every now and then, but he is still an asset.
Frank Young: Is it time for the Ravens to seriously reconsider signing Joe Flacco to a long-term contract? His act on the road really has gotten old and if he simply could get halfway to where he is at home, the Ravens would be a legit contender and even border on a dynasty. I realize they were a dropped pass from the Super Bowl but this can't continue. I know, I know do we have anyone that can do better? Maybe the two Harbaughs can work out a trade for Alex Smith?
Mike Preston: Frank, Frank, Frank. Someone spiked your purple Kool-Aid. Flacco for Smith? Are you kidding me? Flacco has a very strong arm. Smith has a pop gun. Flacco is big, strong and tough. Smith isn’t extremely durable. I admit that Flacco has to play better on the road, and he would be the first to admit it as well. But if you think Flacco is the main problem that separates the Ravens from becoming a dynasty, then you are mistaken.
Ravens and dynasty. I don’t think so. Before you begin running Flacco out of town, try getting him a few offensive linemen first. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll starting zoning in on why he threw that check-down pass to Rice. Would Johnny Unitas have done that? Would Bert Jones? How about Joe Namath?
That still scares me.
Mountain Drew: Wow! After Sunday’s win I am on board and don’t plan on drinking anything but purple Kool-Aid! I see this season shaping up into a bigger fairy tale than anything Disney ever did. From Art Modell passing to T-Sizzle coming back and losing Webby, and then the Ravens possibly having home field for most or all of the playoffs, and the G.O.A.T looming for a possible return for the ages, imagine Ray Lewis comes back for the playoffs. Do you see us losing at home with a purple wall behind us if this Superstorm Baltimore, if you will, comes to fruition? Is revenge possible in Houston with our improving D if we end up there?
Mike Preston: No, the Ravens can’t beat Houston in Houston, but that might not be necessary. The Patriots will beat Houston, and the AFC championship will come to Baltimore.
Move over Mr. Mountain Drew, and let’s drink from the same Purple Glass. I know exactly where you are coming from because I have been thinking about it myself. The Ravens are one of the worst 9-2 teams in the history of the NFL, but they've got that Mojo working.
You can call them Team Destiny, you can call it fate or divine intervention, but it’s working. No one gets a first down off a fourth-and-29 on a dump pass. It’s ridiculous, but it worked for the Ravens. Let’s look at some other things. The Ravens bring in Justin Tucker to challenge Billy Cundiff for the starting place kicking job, and not only does he outkick him, but Tucker has become Mr. Clutch. A few weeks ago, cornerback Corey Graham was primarily a special teams guy, and now he is making plays for the Ravens and is better than former starter Jimmy Smith. In three games this season, the other teams had more than 20-minute advantages in time of possession and the Ravens still won.
You want more? How about Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel fumbling at the Ravens' 1-yard line? How about Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant dropping that two-point conversion pass in the end zone when he had just caught a touchdown on the same pattern the play before? How about Terrell Suggs coming back a month before expected?
Kruger is starting to play like Deacon Jones and Arthur Jones like Randy White. Center Matt Birk is older than Moses, left guard Jah Reid stays on the ground more than he stays up and neither offensive tackle can handle a speed rusher.
And the Ravens still win. I can go on and on and on ...
I don’t sip Kool-Aid anymore, but I know what you are saying. Fate plays a hand in determining the Super Bowl winner, and the Ravens are riding high. They played the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, and Ben Roethlisberger missed the game with an injury. The way the Ravens' luck is going right now, RGIII will suffer an injury the week before the Ravens play the Redskins, and both Peyton Manning and Eli Manning will suffer torn ACLs while walking to the hospital to see him.
It’s a crazy year, and I have to admit I have some personal rooting interest in the Ravens. I love Beyonce. She is the new Tina Turner. That woman has legs for days -- enough, as the old timers say, to make an old man stand up straight and drive a young boy crazy.
Well, if the Ravens go to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, I get to see Beyonce perform at halftime live. Right now, nothing else seems to matter. So Mr. Mountain Drew, if you want to drink the purple Kool-Aid, go for it. We’ll toast together because in the background I've got my own little purple pom-poms. I want the Ravens to get to The Show so I can see the Show.
Legs, legs, legs ...