Each week, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer questions from readers about the Ravens. You can submit questions during every game to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are this week's questions and answers:
What's up with John Harbaugh's play-calling? The call before the half against the Packers and now the onside kick were both bad calls. -- Jamie
Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not make bad calls in those situations. He is looking for a spark. Unfortunately, the sparks keep catching for the other team. The onside kick was a great call. Pittsburgh was controlling the ball, and the Ravens had only seven possessions in the game. He was basically trying to steal a possession with about nine minutes left in the quarter. I disagreed with his decisions against Green Bay, but I thought the onsides kick was appropriate.
Hey, Mike. I think it's hard to argue much with Harbaugh's onside-kick decision, since I've read that surprise ones have a 48 to 60 percent success rate -- and unless the Steelers score a touchdown afterward, it's not a total disaster if it fails, since we could still tie with a touchdown of our own. But how do you explain Harbaugh's inclination to go for all of these daring plays this season? -- Tom, West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Ravens are not playing very well. It is as simple as that. If you think back to the first two years of the Harbaugh era, there were lots of trick and gadget plays because the Ravens were not that good then either. The sparks they created back then did not end up with the Ravens going up in flames. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.
I want to know why the Ravens can never seem to consistently put up 30+ point games like so many other offensive powerhouses. We have a top arm in Joe Flacco, a top receiver in Torrey Smith, a top running back in Ray Rice, and some true talent on the offensive line. Yet other teams that lack an arm (Houston), legs (New England), or an O-line (Green Bay) have put these kind of numbers up far more consistently over the last few years, if not as much this year. Is the problem with the talent, the coaching, the mindset, or maybe just the team philosophy? -- Zachary, Beijing
I can point to a number of issues that are plaguing the Ravens on offense this season.
1. Quarterback Joe Flacco has a top paycheck and cannon for an arm, but there are a number of issues with his performance. Flacco is completing less than 60 percent of his passes for the season (59.5), still seems to lack pocket awareness, lacks situational awareness (when the Steelers came offsides, he took a big hit instead of giving a receiver a chance to make a play), and -- my personal favorite -- he has started doing the whirlybirds again.
2. Running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are dealing with injuries and averaging 2.8 yards per carry each. They are not breaking tackles and are not making people miss.
3. The offensive line is just not blocking well. The reports of meeting room upheaval about the blocking scheme tell you everything you need to know.
4. The receivers fail to get separation. Nothing new here.
5. The tight ends are finally starting to come around, but it would have been nice to see these catches a few weeks ago.
6. The short answer to your question, yes.
As tough as this loss was, I felt like the passing game is starting to come along with Flacco and his receivers. Flacco didn't make any major mistakes, really diced up the defense when they ran spread and no-huddle, and had another really nice fourth-quarter comeback attempt[pt. If we can continue to see progress with Marlon Brown, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson, and get the running game going, would you agree this offense could be dangerous? -- Jason, Federal Hill
It could be, but it won’t be. See the previous question.
What are your thoughts on using some "Tyrod" packages for Tyrod Taylor ... short yardage, red zone? He might be the most dynamic player on the team. -- Mike S.
It might not hurt at this point. See my blog post from Monday on this topic by clicking here. (cheap plug alert).
The Ravens are last in the league in first quarter scoring, averaging just 1.9 points. It seems that either the offensive game planning is bad, or the players aren't motivated and ready to play. Since the Ravens defense is ranked No. 10 in first quarter scoring, allowing just 3.6 points, it seems that the problem is with the offensive game planning. What do you think? -- Dave L.
I concur. See the question from Zachary.
When will the Ravens bench Gino Gradkowski? He clearly doesn't have the strength to take on blockers and is currently rated the worst center in football by Pro Football Focus. -- Ryan J.
When they have a better option.
Always playing from behind, always off to slow starts, always shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, not able to run the ball or stop the run, almost giving up a 100-yard kickoff return, and then unable to get a defensive stop. Could it be that, for the first time in ages, the Ravens have a team that is just not a mentally tough group? -- William, Towson
I wouldn’t say they are not a mentally tough group. I would say they have been getting outplayed. Offensively, they can't get off to fast starts, and defensively, they can't get off the field in the fourth quarter.
Do you think that Harbaugh is too quick to hire friends and too slow to fire them? Granted, coaches like to hire colleagues they know and trust, but Harbaugh seems to take it to another level. Case 1 = Cam Cameron. Case 2 seems to be the new running coach (Juan Castile). A coach-player meeting, poor running game. Is Harbaugh outthinking himself? -- Aaron, Fla.
This is the way the NFL works. Harbaugh hires his friends, guys he can trust and believe in. When Harbaugh needs his next job, his friends hire him. It is the good-old-boy network. It has been that way forever, and it is not changing any time soon.
What changes, if any, do you see the Ravens making during their bye week? When you watch carefully, one sees missed assignments, mental lapses, lack of focus and lack of attention to detail. In other words, poor coaching. -- Eldon D.
There is only so much that can be changed at this point. Word of injuries and finger pointing is starting to leak out of the Ravens' complex. I think you will see a few things such as more man-blocking schemes in the run game, but the Ravens are who they are at this point. Some of the younger players will mature because of game experience, but there won't be any significant changes.