In a new feature, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Fresh off Baltimore’s 37-26 Week 3 win over the New England Patriots, plenty of questions remain with the Buffalo Bills, a Super Bowl favorite, coming to town Sunday.
Here’s Preston’s take:
(Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity)
Can we just write off now Ronnie Stanley playing this year?
— Robert Scheerer
Mike Preston: It’s way too early to write Stanley off, but he is definitely needed after Ja’Wuan James went down with a torn Achilles tendon in Week 1 and Patrick Mekari suffered an ankle injury in Week 3. Mekari’s replacement, rookie Daniel Faalele, started slowly against New England on Sunday but got better as the game went on to turn in a solid effort. However, Faalele, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, will struggle most of the season with speed rushers if he isn’t given help, and that hurts the passing game.
Sunday’s game against Buffalo is the ideal time for Stanley to return, not just because of Mekari’s injury, but also because the Bills have a strong, aggressive defensive line.
Coming out of Notre Dame, Stanley was criticized for not having a strong work ethic and there have been times in his seven seasons in Baltimore when he didn’t practice even though he should have been on the field. There are some within the organization who believe he didn’t work hard enough during rehabilitation last offseason, which led to him only playing one game in 2021.
With all that said, he’s reportedly had multiple surgeries on his ankle. Because of his weight (315 pounds) and the nature of his position, which puts a lot of pressure on the ankles, it’s going to take him longer to return to the field than most players at other positions.
But the perfect time is now with the Bills coming to town.
How does [Eric DeCosta] escape criticism for the team’s glaring roster weaknesses? Ronnie Stanley has been injured since 2020 and they haven’t brought anyone in to fill his spot through the draft, trades or free agency. They’ve had no pass rush since 2019 and EDC’s [outside linebacker] draft picks have been [Odafe] Oweh, who doesn’t register sacks, [Daelin] Hayes, who was injured and is now gone, and [David] Ojabo, who won’t play until 2023. As for his No. 1 picks, [Marquise] “Hollywood” Brown wasn’t great and is now gone, [Patrick] Queen can’t shed blocks, tackle in the open field, or cover, [Rashod] Bateman looks like an average NFL receiver. The jury is still out on [Kyle] Hamilton and [Tyler] Linderbaum, but the last Pro Bowl-caliber player the Ravens drafted in the first round was Lamar, and that was Ozzie [Newsome]’s call. What other GM could get away with this?
— Jesse D. Marr
Preston: Wow, Jesse, that really isn’t a question but a statement and your opinion. But I wrote about this being a key year for DeCosta back in February and that he needed to add some impact players.
Since becoming general manager four years ago, DeCosta’s drafts have been average at best, with some of the notable disappointments you mentioned. But at the same time, I am giving him ample time to improve, just like the players he selects in the draft who get three to four years, and in some cases five (see outside linebacker Tyus Bowser).
DeCosta’s critics will say he doesn’t deserve that amount of time because he worked under former general manager Ozzie Newsome since the team moved here from Cleveland in 1996, but it’s one thing to provide input on players and another to be the guy who makes the decisions.
Of course, there have been some things that I would have done differently, like select a pass rusher in the first round, a problem area for this team the last four years. I would have beefed up the interior of the offensive and defensive lines in the draft, because that’s where games are won and lost in the NFL, and certainly added more “tough guys,” which this team lacks.
But this year’s draft class appears promising with Linderbaum, Hamilton, defensive tackle Travis Jones, tight end Isaiah Likely and cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams.
DeCosta deserves some criticism but the Ravens have been to the playoffs every year but one since he became general manager. So, to put it in perspective, consider him a draft pick who deserves another year or two before some try to run him out of town.
Should the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2023 be a left tackle or middle linebacker? Also, do you think Lamar is the front-runner for MVP right now?
— @Royce90246855 on Twitter
Preston: It’s way too early to speculate about the draft, but the Ravens have a lot of glaring needs on defense, particularly at edge rusher and inside linebacker. As far as left tackle, it remains to be seen when or if Stanley plays and how effective he is on the field. Ask me that same question about two months from now.
As far as Jackson, the front-runner for the MVP changes week to week, but it really doesn’t matter because Jackson is always in that class.
All the talking eggheads on these 24/7 sports channels hype up this MVP race after every game. It’s almost as bad as someone stating every week that Jackson can win a game with his arm, or that he can spark a comeback win.
One of the things I like best about Jackson is that he doesn’t talk about the accolades or awards. He just keeps focusing on winning a Super Bowl.
In Year 5, Jackson is a proven talent. The only questions that remain about him are, can he lead the Ravens deep into the playoffs, and can he win a Super Bowl?
Front-runner for MVP? It depends on the week and which teams won and lost.
My question is: do you think the past three games, defensively speaking, is cause for concern over the Ravens’ hire of Mike Macdonald? A follow-up question is do you believe Odafe Oweh is being properly utilized in this scheme?
— William Kang
Preston: I would not point the finger at Macdonald, but the lack of success means the Ravens are still adjusting their philosophy, scheme and personnel.
That’s normal under these trying circumstances after the team invested so much money and brought in top talent during the offseason. One problem was that the majority of the starters never got on the field together during preseason games because coach John Harbaugh feared injuries.
If you combine that with a new defensive coordinator and several new defensive assistants, there is going to be an adjustment period, especially with communication.
Harbaugh was a defensive backs coach when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, so I assume he has been huddling with Macdonald and secondary coach Chris Hewitt to work some things out.
I don’t think the Ravens are concerned about Macdonald at this point, but that might change if they keep allowing receivers like the New England Patriots’ DeVante Parker to put up big numbers like he’s Miami Dolphins star Tyreek Hill.
As far as Oweh, what else can the Ravens do with him? He’s been on the strong side and weak side and still can’t get pressure, and he’s had problems holding the edge against the run. Oweh had a strong training camp, which led a lot of us to believe he would have a strong season. But in retrospect, the second-year player was considered a project when the Ravens drafted him in the first round.
What do you make of Jerry Rosburg now coaching with the Broncos? Surprised to see him unretire and not come back to Ravens?
— David Jacob
Preston: No David, not really. I’ve seen a lot of assistant coaches come back from retirement, such as former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who is now in that same capacity with the Atlanta Falcons. These guys are passionate, and they miss that competition on Sunday afternoons. Rosburg was well-liked and respected here in Baltimore. If he wanted to return, some team was going to find a position for him, which Denver did as its senior assistant this season.
With the potential of getting pass rush help back at some point this season with the return of Bowser and Ojabo, if you were DeCosta, would you put a higher priority on acquiring some middle linebacker help? Or bring in more pass rushing help? I was a little surprised they didn’t sign Blake Martinez when he visited.
— Paul in Orlando
Preston: It’s all based on need. The return of Bowser and Ojabo would be an upgrade, but probably not significant since both are returning from Achilles tendon injuries.
In the words of Newsome, it all depends on right player, right price. For instance, the Ravens recently signed Jason Pierre-Paul. At age 33, his best years are behind him, but the Ravens need pass rushers. If Pierre-Paul were that good, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, respected for putting together top defenses, certainly would have signed him to a new deal. Instead, the Ravens are willing to take a chance with Pierre-Paul, hoping he has enough left in the tank.
It’s a gamble, but I like the move. If a veteran linebacker similar to Martinez becomes available, I assume the Ravens will not hesitate in signing him.
Have a question for Mike Preston? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ravens mailbag” in the subject line and it could be answered in The Baltimore Sun.