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Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag on re-signing Roquan Smith, Plan B after Lamar Jackson and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. After Baltimore defeated the Carolina Panthers, 13-3, on Sunday, plenty of questions remain before a Week 12 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

Any chance the Ravens can keep Roquan Smith after this season?

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— Brian from Fallston

So far, the impact of the trade for Smith on the Ravens has been incredible. So, with that said, how do you not keep him? If he makes everyone around him better and helps fellow inside linebacker Patrick Queen take his game to another level, they have to find a way to keep him, correct? Again, let’s see how this all plays out. Smith has played in only two games, and the Panthers were a total disaster as far as offensive football. Let’s not overreact. But if he and the defense continue to play this well then you have to make salary cap room for a player of this caliber, especially one who is 25 years old. Even more importantly, he has become an asset in the locker room, and the coaches say he is really good at studying film. In less than a month, he has been a complete professional.

Mike, if as you say, “they [the Ravens] want to limit Jackson’s passing attempts to increase their chances of winning,” what does that say about Jackson’s abilities, value to the team, and his contract? How many top 10 teams with franchise quarterbacks want to limit passing attempts to improve the odds of winning? None that I can think of. Thanks. Love your articles and insights.

— Paul F. Robinson

Jackson is a great athlete who is a good quarterback, but he has weaknesses, probably more than others who are classified as “franchise quarterbacks.” This is an offense that is built around Jackson’s legs and the running game, not his arm strength. If the Ravens have to rely on Jackson’s arm to carry them or throw more than 35 times a game, that increases their chances of losing. As far as the winning formula for most teams in the NFL, they want to be balanced with their run-pass ratio, but the heavy lifting has to be done by that team’s strength, which in the case of the Ravens is Jackson’s explosiveness off the edge and the team’s commitment to run the ball.

When it comes to Jackson’s contract, his ability to run and make big plays has to be factored in. I’m sure coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta are aware of what they have in Jackson, which is why they have turned him into a game manager the past couple of games. Losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants proved why Jackson’s decision-making and his inaccuracy can be costly.

But owner Steve Bisciotti also knows this is a business and Jackson is marketable and there are a lot of fans wearing No. 8 jerseys. It all has to be factored in when it comes to negotiations during the offseason, as well as how deep the Ravens go into the playoffs.

Is DeCosta working on a Plan B in case the Ravens and Lamar are unable to settle on a contract? If so, what would you expect their most likely strategy to be?

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— Art Smith

Art, as of today, I stand behind what I have originally suggested. The Ravens should put the franchise tag on Jackson for next season and then determine if he is the right quarterback who can take them to the title. If he does that before then, then they should make him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks like they did with Joe Flacco when he led the team to the title in 2012.

With the way Smith is playing, I am more inclined at this moment (notice, I wrote at this moment), to sign him to a long-term contract and franchise Jackson for 2023, if financially possible.

I assume DeCosta already has a plan.

Hi Mike, first off, I’m a professor and my students are lucky I don’t grade as hard as you do! I always appreciate your high standards for the Ravens. Second, I was re-watching games from the 2019 season and was struck by how many double and triple tight end sets the Ravens used that year. Mark Andrews is an unusual receiving talent. But Jackson clearly likes throwing at big targets who can fight for the ball. Why do you think we moved away from these sorts of formations and, with Isaiah Likely and (possibly) Charlie Kolar on the team, do you see a possible return to them?

— Clay Alsup

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When the Ravens drafted both Likely and Kolar in April, I actually thought we would see the Ravens go back to more of the two-tight-end look we saw in 2019. But a lot of other things have come into play, like the health of Mark Andrews and the need to incorporate fullback Patrick Ricard more in pass protection, especially with Ronnie Stanley missing time as he recovered from his ankle injury. With that said, the Ravens have used backup tight end Josh Oliver more as both a receiver and a blocker.

A lot of young quarterbacks struggle to read the entire field early in their NFL careers because they are only taught to read a half or a quarter of the field in college and to get rid of the ball quickly. Jackson has struggled with that as well, which is why he likes to throw over the middle. That’s his comfort zone. In the next seven games, I think the Ravens will make a more concerted effort to improve their downfield passing game, and that will include more looks to the tight ends. It’s hard to win in the playoffs if a team can’t go over the top and stretch a defense.

One other thing, Clay: I’m old school, man. Let’s get back to handing out tougher grades. (Just joking.)

What is the situation with Nick Boyle? He had three offensive snaps on Sunday. Do you expect him to be put on IR once Kolar is ready?

— Manfred

I don’t know about injured reserve, but it appears his days are numbered. He was once a dominant blocker and he worked hard to become a better receiver. I used to love Boyle hurdling linebackers and defensive backs after receptions. But the Ravens have Andrews and have gone young with Likely and the big-bodied Kolar.

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There are some games where Devin Duvernay is utilized a lot on offense, like the home game vs. Cincy (3 rushes, 7 targets), and you think he’s going to be a real effective weapon for the offense. Then there are other games, like Sunday (1 rush, 1 target). Is this as simple as being a matchup thing? Us fans overrating Duvernay? Or does offensive coordinator Greg Roman need to put Post Its up around his office to remind himself to get him the ball?

— Paul in Orlando

OK, Paul, you get the high-five award for that shot at Roman, and I understand your concern. I see what the Dolphins do with Tyreek Hill and the 49ers with Deebo Samuel and wonder why the Ravens don’t do the same with Duvernay. Granted, Duvernay isn’t as elusive or as physical as Samuel, but I’d still try to get him six to 10 touches a game, especially in this offense.

After a game earlier this season, Roman actually said he made a mental note to himself to get Duvernay more involved, and he did so the following week. But he had to take a lot of mental notes after Sunday’s offensive disaster against the Panthers. Two days after that one, I still couldn’t figure out what the Ravens’ game plan was. Were they attacking with the run? Were they attacking with the pass? Where did this new helter-skelter approach come from?

Anyway, bring on Jacksonville.


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