Advertisement
Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag on John Harbaugh’s status, Greg Roman’s flaws, loss to Browns and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. After Baltimore fell to the Cleveland Browns, 13-3, on Saturday, plenty of questions remain before a Week 16 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.

Here’s Preston’s take:

Advertisement

(Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity.)

Happy holidays to all (despite the ugly Browns game). Mike, I notice some increased dissatisfaction with Harbaugh from Ravens fans. Many are puzzled by his willingness to keep Roman as offensive coordinator, but it extends beyond that. He has won a Super Bowl, of course, but that is now a decade old. In nine seasons since the SB, he is 2-4 in the postseason and has not made it to the AFC championship game over these nine years, let alone a return to the Super Bowl. Not counting this year, the Ravens have won the AFC North only twice in those nine years, with the Bengals winning it three times and the Steelers four times. Is one-and-out in the playoffs good enough? If the Ravens fade early in the playoffs this year, might we see Harbaugh on the hot seat, or is it already a little toasty?

Advertisement

— Mike Stefanek

It can’t be that toasty. Harbaugh just got a three-year contract extension in March that will carry him through 2025. Even at this point, it’s still too early to determine how things will work out for the Ravens and Harbaugh in 2022. If they struggle in the final three regular-season games and don’t advance far in the playoffs, I assume owner Steve Bisciotti will turn the heat up a little. By then, it will have been Harbaugh’s fifth year with quarterback Lamar Jackson in a system designed by coordinator Greg Roman that was supposed to revolutionize offenses. So far, that hasn’t happened, though the Ravens defense is playing well.

To be honest, the Ravens still have enough talent and the right design to go deep into the postseason. Teams rated ahead of them — Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati — each struggle against the run, and that’s the Ravens’ forte. If they can get a lead, control the tempo and not commit turnovers, they can beat any team. I’m just not sure they have the downfield passing game or smarts to pull out a string of victories in the playoffs.

Do they re-sign Roquan Smith to an extension and put the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson?

— Jim Lahman

At this point, I am assuming that’s their plan. Smith has elevated the play of the defense and I believe he will give the Ravens the first opportunity to sign him to a long-term contract. He plays well on the field but also appears to spend a lot of time studying film and working with his teammates. You don’t hear anything negative about him and committing to him financially is less risky than Jackson as far as off-the-field habits go. But Smith is going to command a four- or five-year deal worth at least $90 million.

With Jackson, the Ravens can just put the franchise tag on him. He’d be disgruntled about it. But if he doesn’t lead the Ravens deep into the postseason and decides to sulk about the franchise tag, then it might be better for the Ravens to explore a trade with teams that might be interested in Jackson.

Overall, it’s a sound plan, but there is usually trauma around contract negotiations. Emotion can be a factor between the two sides.

Advertisement

At this point in the season, the Ravens wide receivers corps is what it is. However, there is still one potential receiving option left to help the passing game: Charlie Kolar. He was drafted before Likely, so I assume the Ravens had higher expectations of him. Do you see him getting activated on game day anytime soon or think he could have any impact? Thanks.

— Paul in Orlando

I think the Ravens have a plan for Kolar but one of the positive things about this offense has been the production provided by tight ends Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely and Josh Oliver. There was concern about getting another big body opposite of Andrews, but Oliver has blocked well and come up with some key receptions at times. Likely has played well for a rookie and Andrews is one of the better tight ends in the league. So, where do you put Kolar?

Kolar underwent sports hernia surgery in early August and has been cleared to practice, but there really is no rush to get him back on the field unless he can contribute on special teams. The Ravens seem set with the three they have now, as well as Nick Boyle. Kolar, though, is in the future plans.

How in the world is Greg Roman still employed as an offensive coordinator in the NFL? It’s absolutely baffling that the fans, local media, and national pundits can all see that Roman is the greatest problem this team faces, and yet the Raven’s front office continues to turn a blind eye. For years now Roman has squandered our talented rosters.

— Bill Dowling

Advertisement

You can put all the blame on Roman, but some has to go to Harbaugh. It’s his team, he has the final say in all decisions. The Ravens got away from the run and went to the passing attack early in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, which was a big mistake. Roman was calling the plays, but Harbaugh could have easily told him to stay with the run, which he apparently didn’t. The Ravens knew what they were getting into when Jackson became the starter during his rookie season and they became a run-oriented offense. I understand the emphasis on running the ball, especially when you have an explosive talent like Jackson, but the key word here is balance.

If the running game isn’t working, what’s next? Right now, the Ravens don’t have a second option. Roman built similar offenses with similar problems in San Francisco and Buffalo. Because of those situations, Harbaugh should have focused the offensive scheme to be more pass-heavy, especially because that’s been an area the Ravens have struggled in the last five years.

There is an old saying that you prepare for war in a time of peace. The Ravens didn’t prepare, and a lot of people saw it coming.

Mike, can you try to explain why the Ravens are running all over Cleveland’s defense, and when they get into the red zone, they start passing? Why did Huntley have to pass 30 times when the running game was doing so well? And why do other backup quarterbacks (Dallas, San Francisco) perform so well? Thank you.

— Bob in North Carolina

Harbaugh tried to defend his decisions on Monday but he knew the Ravens made a big mistake. Instead of staying with the run, they panicked and allowed Huntley to throw too much. There was really no need for it; the Browns’ offense was nearly as unproductive as the Ravens’. Cleveland led by 10 after three quarters, so the Ravens should have stayed with the game plan in the fourth. Instead, Baltimore only had one designed run in the final 15 minutes.

Advertisement

I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.

But here is something to keep an eye on: I don’t think running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are in peak condition. Dobbins pulled up near midfield following a 37-yard run late in the third quarter, a week after he was caught from behind against the Steelers. The Ravens probably won’t comment, but there appears to be a problem.

As for Edwards, he just doesn’t have great explosion through the hole. He’ll get better, and so will Dobbins, but they haven’t completely healed from serious injuries. They need more time.


Advertisement