Columnist Mike Preston answers questions emailed from readers after Sunday's Ravens victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Is Ray Rice done? -- Howard D.
Howard, can’t say that totally. No, he isn’t the same runner of the previous couple of seasons, but he has been bothered by a hip injury. Also, the offensive line has performed poorly and the Ravens have no passing game. Those things do not add up to a winning combination.
On the final play of the fourth quarter -- a play that we will all see hundreds of times this week (at least we won, so it won't be any more embarrassing than it was) -- why, in that situation, do the Ravens not have man assignments so that no Cincinnati receiver is left uncovered? Instead, all of the defenders go for the ball, while A.J. Green stands by himself, waiting for the impossible tip to happen. Some folks have a problem with the three-man rush there, but I have a problem with allowing a Cincinnati receiver to stand alone in the end zone. -- John P.
Safety James Ihedigbo admitted that he came too far forward when he saw that the ball was not going to reach the endzone without a tip. It was just an instinct play to reach for the ball after that. The Ravens won. No harm, no foul.
The real question is why the Bengals pull that off, but when the Ravens are in that situation, Joe Flacco throws a 2- to 3-yard check down pass to Rice?
CBS showed Jimmy Smith really letting loose on James Ihedigbo with an earful of vociferous criticism on the bench after the play in which Ihedigbo tipped the ball in the end zone to A.J. Green, a play that allowed the Bengals to tie the game, sending the game into overtime. How is this going to affect the chemistry of the Ravens defense? Was Smith out of line for criticizing his teammate in this way? -- Alex S.
Affect chemistry? Out of line? That was great to see. Smith is a young player, a first-round draft pick, who needs to start to taking a leadership role. I hope to see continued development and more vocal leadership from the younger players on the Ravens.
With the pass protection issues the Ravens continue to have, why don't they design more rollouts for Joe Flacco or have him do more three-step drops? -- Dave H.
The Ravens can’t have Flacco take a three-step drop because center Gino Gradkowski would be in his lap too soon. As for more rollouts, they only work off of play action, and you need a running game for that.
Why don't the Ravens run the pistol offense with Tyrod Taylor to ignite the running game? M. Macon
You aren’t going to take your $120.6 million quarterback off of the field. At least Tyrod Taylor got on the field for a snap (yes, singular) and almost led the team in rushing.
With all the problems on offense, why haven't the Ravens tried utilizing Kyle Juszczyk? He was supposed to be a versatile offensive weapon, yet he never plays and our offense remains dormant. If nothing else, wouldn't a "heavy" package with Juszczyk and Vonta Leach be a way to get the nonexistent running game a jolt? Just an idea. Thanks Mike. -- JJ, King George, Va.
It is an idea that worked when the Ravens had fullbacks Lorenzo Neal and LeRon McClain and, most importantly, an offensive line that could run block. As I referenced in my column, the running game won’t get better until the linemen get healthy and play better. Juszczyk got abused by the Ravens defense during short yardage situations in training camp.
When do you think the Ravens coaching staff will start the block of instruction on "Tackling 101?" Linebackers and safeties can't tackle to save their lives. -- Gil V., New Jersey
As soon as the collective bargaining agreement changes and actual hitting can occur in practice.
Is senior defensive assistant Steve Spagnuolo making any impact on this team? -- Jeff P.
I would say yes. The defense has definitely improved from last year, and Spagnuolo has had some impact. But make no mistake, Dean Pees runs the show and he dialed up some excellent blitzes against the Bengals on Sunday.
Which players still under contract will not be on the roster next year? And what about coaches, too? -- Paul C., Bristol, Conn.
I think you have to look at Jacoby Jones, Vonta Leach, and Rice on the offensive side of the ball. I would look at Arthur Jones on defense, and it will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with Haloti Ngata, even if it means renegotiating his contract. It’s hard to tell with coaching staffs. For example, the winning Super Bowl team usually loses a couple of assistants but the Ravens retained their entire staff from last season.
Is it a bad sign that the best player on your team is the kicker? -- Patrick, Towson