Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers reader questions about the Ravens' 28-13 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, and looks ahead to the team's Super Bowl matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
Drew: I’ve been drinking purple Kool-Aid all year, and it’s gotten bitter at some points, but man, it has aged just right at the moment and tastes so GOOD! Can we change No. 5's nickname to Joe Money? I wouldn’t take any other QB in the league over Joe Flacco these last six weeks. No picks since Denver in the regular season? Dude is serious money....
Mike Preston: Drew, the purple Kool-Aid always tastes good. Just ask the people over at The Castle. And the nickname "Joe Money" will be appropriate for Flacco a few weeks after the Super Bowl. He is still on his rookie deal.
Mike Ginsberg in Arlington, Va.: I know we won the Patriots game and I should not be complaining about the officiating – they got most of the calls right – but I had a problem with two plays: (1) the hit on Dennis Pitta, which sure looked like a helmet-to-helmet hit, as bad as anything the Ravens got flagged for in that department (and surely worse that Dannell Ellerbe's little bit of pushing and shoving), and (2) Tom Brady's slide where he spiked Ed Reed, the sort of slide that if you slid into second base that way you'd get hit by a pitch in your next at-bat. I've seen a lot of QBs slide, and I've never seen them slide spikes-high like that. Do you think that the refs look a little more closely at the Ravens for helmet-to-helmet hits and other types of personal fouls, and if so, why?
Mike Preston: The refs look closely at teams with a reputation for playing physical football. They are not supposed to, but they do. The Steelers and Ravens draw more flags because they hit harder than most teams. It isn't a conspiracy as most Baltimore fans would like to think, it is just human nature. Plus, if I were a quarterback, I'd slide spikes up, too.
Bob K.: Congratulations again on your correct pick. I was surprised that Vince Wilfork was such a non-factor in the game. I hardly heard his name mentioned. What changes did the Ravens make to keep him from having such a major impact like he did last year?
Mike Preston: The Ravens double-teamed Wilfork all game, and they have a lot of muscle at guard with Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. For the most part it worked, however the strategy did get Flacco hit a couple of times by allowing a free runner because of all the focus on Wilfork. The offensive line played extremely well overall, and the group has improved tremendously since Bryant McKinnie was inserted as the starting left tackle.
Richard in Dallas: Which decision was the key decision that propelled the Ravens into the Super Bowl: letting Bryant McKinnie out of the doghouse or firing Cam Cameron midseason? Do you see the Ravens in the Super Bowl if only one of those changes had been made?
Mike Preston: I think you would have to choose letting McKinnie out of the doghouse. The Ravens had success with Cam Cameron over four-and-a-half seasons. However, when the offensive line struggled, the whole team struggled. It seems to me that actually having the best five offensive linemen on the field is a good idea. When your offensive line is dominating, you are physically controlling the game and the time of possession, especially with a strong running attack. You are also keeping your defense off the field. Your best defense is still a strong offense.
Marty from Columbia: Does Bryant McKinnie have a chance to come back next year to the Ravens? As you’ve stated, there is no doubt the offensive line is much better with him and now can be considered a strength and not the team's weakness. By the way, congrats on calling this ALL SEASON LONG.
Mike Preston: Marty, McKinnie definitely wants to come back next season. He doesn't want to start new again in another city and he likes his teammates, especially the group on the offensive line. He works well and has a strong relationship with Osemele. But now is not the time for thoughts like that.
Somebody, please pass the Kool-Aid.
John Snyder: My question is a two-parter dealing with Jim Caldwell. Why did he wait until the start of the second half of the New England game to open up the offense? Was it based on the score or the timing? Based on his success, there has been recent discussion that he should continue as the offensive coordinator, but I think he should be a head coach somewhere. Do you agree?
Mike Preston: John, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell worked his game plan again. Caldwell has the experience of being a head coach and knows that it requires the whole team to win. The Ravens defense had been on the field for a record number of plays the previous two weeks. The time of possession battle tilted to the Patriots early again, and it is hard for teams to get in a flow offensively when they are not on the field. The Ravens had pretty bad field position for most of the first half, and as the Ravens had the ball more, he could open up the offense more.
At halftime, coach John Harbaugh ordered Caldwell to open up the offense, and Caldwell obliged. I believe that if this offense keeps scoring points at this rate, Caldwell will find himself in charge of another team by the end of next season.
LordBern: Am I the only one in Baltimore embarrassed about Ray Lewis' behavior in front of the camera after the championship games? What drama. I know Ray is an icon in this city, but there's a whole team who has made it to the Super Bowl. Not just Ray by himself. Not really a question for you, but just curious about your opinion on Ray's theatrics.
Mike Preston: I don't question Ray Lewis' convictions or his belief. I think every man has his own personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ once they commit to that faith.
As for me, I would probably do things differently. One of the best things about Christianity is the simplicity of its nature. It's not about showmanship.
With Ray Lewis, I know what he stands for and is about at his core. I don't pay any attention to the theatrics after the games anymore because I turn it off. I would like for ESPN to show more of the other players that contributed to the wins. I'd like to see more Flacco, more Anquan Boldin, more Torrey Smith and Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. But ESPN is just as much about theater as it is about football, which is why those cameras continue to hang around Lewis and they send a quality reporter like Sal Paolantonio to follow Lewis' every step after each game. It's a shame.
Julian: Hey Mike, is there any need at all to resign Cary Williams, being that this is the first time the Ravens are stocked at corner?
Mike Preston: Julian, in today’s NFL you never have enough corners. I think the Ravens will try to keep Williams, but the salary cap will be an issue. With Corey Graham playing well, Chykie Brown continuing to improve and Lardarius Webb on the mend, Williams might get more on the open market than the Ravens want to offer.
JDovi: How do you evaluate the Ravens’ interior defensive line and what changes do you see coming to the interior defensive line?
Mike Preston: This group has struggled all season. Haloti Ngata has struggled with injuries and Terrence Cody is a disappointment. Ma'ake Kemoeatu has played well at times, but is not an every-down player, and Arthur Jones has been a decent backup. I would not be surprised to see the Ravens look to upgrade this group.
LordBern: I think the NFC is the weaker of the two conferences. And with the Ravens beating two of the best teams in the last two weeks (along with beating the two best quarterbacks), that sets the Ravens up to have a very good chance of beating the 49ers. The 49ers are a very good team, but they didn't exactly beat the teams of the same caliber to get to the Super Bowl like the Ravens did. Am I way off on this?
Mike Preston: Actually, an argument could be made that the NFC was the stronger conference this season. The AFC just has the bigger names at quarterback. The 49ers and Ravens both played quality opponents to get to the Super Bowl. This will be a hard-fought, close game much like last season on Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to a quality, hard-hitting game, but my prediction for the winner is the same as the past two weeks.
Joe from New Jersey: Mike, love your column. My only question is, can I sit next to you during the Beyonce show?
Mike Preston: Joe, I love you, too, but no. Hell no. It's just me, my Purple Kool-Aid , my girl and my world.