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Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about Lamar Jackson’s demeanor, Devin Duvernay’s usage and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Coming off Baltimore’s 23-20 Week 7 win against the Cleveland Browns, plenty of questions remain with Baltimore set to travel to face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

While many Ravens fans pick apart Lamar each and every week, I’d like to first acknowledge the defense has been providing a winning recipe ever since Week 1. But, coming back to the problem, it just doesn’t seem like Lamar is having fun anymore, and it could be the fact that we continue to see very few halftime or fourth-quarter adjustments. Is the offensive play-calling to blame for the lack of late offensive production? Every well-equipped offense seems to actually have routes that create separation and spread the field, but the Ravens seem to always play a type of offense that consists of basic route trees and continue to lack the ability to get separation. Is it scheme or player ability, or Lamar missing them?

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— Drew Hamel

Preston: Jackson seemed to be having fun in the first three weeks of the season when he was playing well, but that changed because he is struggling. He needs to put on his big boy pants. He declined to accept the offer presented by the team in the preseason and gambled that he would play well. It was his decision, so now he has to deal with the consequences and handle the pressure when things aren’t going well. The simple answer is that he needs to play well again. Instead of pouting on the bench and not talking to teammates like his predecessor Joe Flacco, show some leadership and bring his A-game consistently. If he plays well and the Ravens go deep into the postseason, then the pressure is back on team officials to get a deal done.

As far as the play calling, the Ravens knew what they were getting into when they promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator in 2019. As the OC with San Francisco and later Buffalo, Roman was known for building strong running games but average passing attacks. At least with the 49ers, coach Jim Harbaugh was there to create and develop the passing game. In Baltimore, the Ravens don’t have that luxury. They gambled with Roman and were comfortable building their offense around Jackson, a running quarterback.

Whenever an offense or defense becomes one-dimensional, there are some problems. Teams that pass a lot expose their defenseless quarterbacks to more vicious hits in the pocket and sometimes struggle in the red zone without a strong running game. In Baltimore, the Ravens’ passing game is ineffective, and right now, out of sync. The best offensive teams strive for balance as far as pass versus the run, but the Ravens’ passing game definitely lacks creativity.

Will the Ravens add a legit wide receiver before the trade deadline on Nov. 1? Also, do you think Roman has reached the max with Lamar? Something just seems off with the offense.

— Rodney Williams

The Ravens added veteran receiver DeSean Jackson last week, but there isn’t a timetable for him to step onto the playing field. Jackson is a speedster who has 632 catches for 11,110 yards and 58 touchdowns while playing for Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas. At age 35, his best days are behind him, but it’s a good gamble for the Ravens because Jackson still might have a little left in the tank and it isn’t costing them much.

Baltimore has become a regular stop for older receivers like Michael Crabtree, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Dez Bryant. Only a few have worked out — Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr. and Derrick Mason.

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As for Roman and Jackson, don’t read too much into him throwing only 16 passes against Cleveland on Sunday. Jackson has struggled with turnovers recently and should have thrown for three more touchdowns in the team’s loss to the Giants two weeks ago. The Ravens basically took the ball out of his hands versus the Browns because they were struggling to block ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett wasn’t going to beat Baltimore unless Jackson turned the ball over like he did against New York.

It was a safe game plan, and the Ravens were back to their old identity of having a run-first mentality. But if they reach the playoffs, that will change. They’re going to need Jackson to make plays with his arm as well as his legs.

The Ravens have me dumbfounded. They tease us with all the ways we can use Devin Duvernay and with Roman being the offensive coordinator in Buffalo with Percy Harvin one would assume he would use Duvernay in those same ways. Could you help us understand why they are reluctant to use him? Thanks.

— Robert Bass

I thought the Ravens were beyond that stage of not using Duvernay properly, but I was wrong. Against the Bengals, Roman used Duvernay on tosses, end-arounds and as a receiver and return specialist. Against the Giants, he disappeared. Against the Browns, he had two catches for 42 yards, including a 31-yarder on the opening possession to set up a 32-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. He also returned a punt 46 yards in the second quarter to set up another Tucker field goal.

I’ve been campaigning for this kid to touch the ball about 10 times a game for two years now. The Ravens need to use him like Kansas City did and Miami does with Tyreek Hill. He has outstanding speed and sets up his blocks well. He is becoming one of the least used weapons on the roster.

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Maybe Harbaugh needs to address that with Mr. Roman.

The Ravens have committed a lot of dollars and years to their secondary with little return over the past several years. Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see the Ravens addressing the issues in the secondary going forward?

— Andy in Hagerstown

Drafting a cornerback has to be a top priority and the Ravens also need to get this right. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters is a fierce competitor but has lost a step, which is why teams are going after him every week. Fellow cornerback Marlon Humphrey can still play at a high level, but only on the inside where he can be close to the line of scrimmage. I like the rookie Damarion “Pepe” Williams outside or inside and he might be able to step into a starting role next season. Rookie Jalyn Armour-Davis played well in the preseason, but Harbaugh gave him the quick hook from the lineup early in the first quarter of their Week 3 game against New England. Still, he’ll get another shot.

Regardless, the Ravens have to find someone to replace Peters and team with Williams next year. It’s hard to win in the NFL already. It’s even harder without a shutdown cornerback.

Mike, thanks for having this forum. After all the hoopla about the Ravens’ improved defense prior to this season, why do average/backup quarterbacks seem to play like All-Pros when facing the Ravens? Is it just injuries (which all teams have) or is there more to it (like coaching)? Thank you.

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— Bob K.

It’s a combination of the two, but my biggest issue is with the linebackers and their drops. Something is missing. They aren’t getting deep enough because a lot of teams are finding holes in behind the inside linebackers and in front of the safeties.

The Ravens also struggle to cover the outside of the field in the deep third. Brissett threw a 55-yard pass to receiver Amari Cooper in the first quarter and he was so wide-open that you could barely see a Raven in the coverage area initially, even on TV. If Brissett’s pass didn’t have more hang time than a Sam Koch punt, this would have been an easy touchdown.

In the past, the lack of a pass rush has always been blamed for allowing too many yards in the air, but Baltimore sacked Brissett five times and he still completed 22 of 27 passes for 258 yards. So, it’s definitely time to look at the scheme and communication.

Two 33-year-old pass rushers, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston, both recently started playing again after different layoffs and seemed to immediately have success getting to the quarterback. Odafe Oweh is still in the “missed it by that much” phase of getting to the quarterback. Is it just a maturation thing with him, given his physical attributes? Thanks.

— Paul Moss

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Preston: Yes, I still regard him as a project. He has great desire and a strong work ethic. He is always one of the last ones to leave the practice field after putting in extra time with the veterans. In fact, his last three games were the best of his career.

He still has a lot to improve on, but he is just starting to fulfill his potential.

I’m suggesting the blockbuster trade of all time. Mike Tomlin is headed for his first losing season. John Harbaugh’s mojo in Baltimore is all but gone. Both are excellent coaches. They don’t deserve to be out of work. Why not give both of them new life? Trade Harbs and his staff for Tomlin and his staff!

— Jim D

Preston: Next question, please.

Have a question for Mike Preston? Email sports@baltsun.com with “Ravens mailbag” in the subject line and it could be answered in The Baltimore Sun.


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