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Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

Each week, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer questions from readers about the Ravens. You can submit questions during every game to sports@baltimoresun.com.

Here are this week's questions and answers:

Mike, are the Ravens players actually that bad this year, or do they have some serious coaching problems, especially on the offensive side? I don't understand the play-calling, lack of using certain player's skills (Vonta Leach, etc.). Is it time to clean house, get rid of some players and coaches? -- Craig, Winchester, Va.

Craig, the Ravens have had some coaching issues, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, the Ravens are that bad this year. You are what your record says you are. Is it time to clean house? The Ravens started that this past offseason. It is going to happen again this offseason. The salary cap situation and the high-dollar contracts on the books tell you that a good number of players currently on the roster will not be here next year. As for the coaches, I would not be surprised to see a few move on.

After another embarrassing loss, can we consider the Ravens done for the season now? -- Roy, Vermont

You can’t stick a fork in them yet, but you can preheat the oven. They just lost to the Browns.

Who deserves the most blame for the team's performance -- offensive line, Juan Castillo, Jim Caldwell or Joe Flacco? If each, would you please assign a percentage? -- Jim C.

Jim, it is impossible to break it down by position like that. Let me try this: The offense gets 55 percent of the blame. They just are not executing. The defense gets 10 percent. I have a hard time assigning more blame to them when the offense goes three-and-out on four of the first five series. The special teams unit gets 25 percent. This group lost a lot of veterans, and all of a sudden, Sam Koch has forgotten how to punt. The coaching staff gets the remaining 10 percent. Coach John Harbaugh did not forget how to coach. There is just something that is not translating to Sundays right now.

How much longer until the Ravens dump Castillo and his so-called zone blocking scheme? The only thing it blocks is our offense. -- David C., Potomac

David, he has already lost major influence, and the Ravens have gone back to what got them to the playoffs last season. Unfortunately, you just don’t snap your fingers and it happens overnight. As far as Castillo, he might get kicked upstairs, but he won’t have major input next season. The fan base is already restless and used to a running game that works.

The offensive line is a mess -- that is a given. But what has happened to this team's identity? There is no energy, swagger, passion, wanting to impose our will or physicality. Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome consistently talk about wanting to be a passionate and physical team -- even John Harbaugh says it. But whether it was Harbaugh or not, all the players that epitomized that philosophy are gone. What we are left with is just a shell. So, what gives, Mike? Is there an internal struggle, or is this the new direction of the franchise? -- Andy, Hagerstown

There has been a shift in the Ravens philosophy as a franchise. The Ravens want to be a high-powered offensive team. They have been saying that for years and are now trying to make the shift completely. Here is the problem: they don’t have the personnel to do it. As I said in my column earlier this week, quarterback Joe Flacco earned that mega-bucks contract over the previous five seasons. The catch is that he cannot carry a team. He is a good quarterback, not elite. The Ravens have always been a complete team with a decent offense, a good-to-great defense, solid special teams and an attitude. Flacco's contract is really, essentially, a three-year deal. It just is not realistic for the Ravens to pay that much of their salary cap to a quarterback who has never completed more than 63.1 percent of his passes in a season. He is good enough to win, but he needs top talent around him as well. The problem down the road will be how much money the team has available to purchase top talent when Flacco’s contract is taking up so much of the salary cap.

Given the Ravens' game plans for the past eight games, why don't they change the types of plays they call? All of the teams we have played seem to know our plans before Flacco takes the snap. The game plans must be redesigned to go from two runs and a pass. It looks like they must put Tyrod Taylor in once and a while to mix up the game plans. -- Bill M.

The Ravens did change the play calls this week. It just didn’t work. As I said in Ravens Insider recently, it might be time for Tyrod Taylor to see the field for a couple of plays.

Why don't the Ravens throw to Ray Rice while he is on the run? Most linebackers wouldn't be able to cover him. He seems to only be running button hooks. -- Rocco F.

I don’t know. I am assuming that Rice is more injured than the Ravens have let on. It is clear he is not the same player this season. He rarely breaks tackles and even went down three times from ankle tackles Sunday against the Browns. Actually, it’s starting to become sad watching him play because one year has made a serious difference in his performance.

Not that there would be much of an effect to the outcome of the game, but what logic could have possibly been behind Rice's poor decision to turn that last check down up the field instead of walking out of bounds with a second or two left on the clock for a Hail Mary? With an arm like Flacco's, it's a much better shot then Rice making 11 guys miss. Do you think this, coupled with poor play, could lead to a benching or a departure in the off season? -- Victor T., Dundalk

Whoa, Victor. I’m not blaming Rice for that. Instead, I blame Flacco. If you have one play remaining, chuck it deep and hope to get a big catch or a pass interference, not throw some stupid checkdown play again. The Ravens got lucky with the fourth-and-29 last year against San Diego, but Flacco shouldn’t have checked down in that situation either. On Sunday, if I was Rice, I would have either batted the ball down or caught it and lateraled it back to Flacco. Here dummy, you take it. It was just a stupid quarterback decision.

Do you have any idea why the Ravens don't blitz more often and with more players? It seems like they are always playing to prevent the big play instead of attacking on defense. That was what made the Ravens defense so tough -- now it is just boring and soft. -- Steve A.

The secondary is having all types of problems with communication. You can only be so aggressive when the back end of your defense can’t find their way with a map. 

If the Ravens continue to play like this and lose, what is their No. 1 priority with what could become an early draft pick? -- Jay, Ellicott City

A center who can block, two guards who aren’t injured, two offensive tackles who stay in the same position all year, a running back who can break a tackle, wide receivers and tight ends who make consistent plays and a $120.6-million quarterback who completes 65 percent or better on his passes. That should be easy, right?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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