Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens 15-10 loss to the Bengals Sunday.
Jordan: Mike - Is it me, or are our vaunted receivers unable to get separation on a consistent basis? Obviously [Ravens quarterback Joe] Flacco tried to better (for the worse) Sanchez's performance last week, but I can't see it's completely his fault. Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
Mike Preston: Let's be honest, Flacco was horrible. He was staring down receivers, and his mechanics were poor as far as throwing off his back foot and not stepping up in the pocket. As a third-year player, Flacco shouldn't be slipping back into bad habits. But you were right, his receivers weren't getting any separation. Any time you see a quarterback patting the ball, and reloading, that means his receivers weren't open. I think the Ravens have to take a look at their scheme against the cover-2. The Ravens haven't had much success against the Colts or the Bengals, offensively.
Rob: Mike - Flacco's footwork looks terrible this year. He is not stepping into his throws. How much is on him and how much is on the offensive line?
Mike Preston: I think a lot of Joe's problems come from his days at Delaware when he was in the shotgun formation a lot. In that situation, a quarterback doesn't need to have as much pocket awareness because he is already off the line of scrimmage. The great quarterbacks can avoid pressure because they feel it. They can take a step to the left or right, and then step up strong in the middle to get something on their throws. Very seldom does Flacco do that. He just drifts to a side when he feels pressure, and then often fails to plant when he throws. Some days, obviously, are worse than others.
Scott: Mike - Flacco obviously had a horrible day, but does Cam share in the blame? [In the] fourth quarter, the Ravens are moving the ball, and it's 3rd and 5, with 5-plus minutes to go . . . who calls for a 35-yard end zone pass to Housh instead of going for a better percentage first down? Where were the crossing patterns over the middle? Yeah, Flacco had it rough — but he had help!
Mike Preston: I remember that pass to Housh as well and wondered what was Cameron thinking, especially when Flacco was having such a horrible day. It wasn't a great day for Cameron, either. He forgot about running back Ray Rice, who was starting to wear the Bengals down in the second half. One of the best ways to get a team out of two deep coverage is to keep pounding the ball at them, and force them to put a safety into the box, and that's when you go over the top. It wasn't a good day for the offensive line, either. By the second half, the Bengals were getting pressure with three and four rushers. To punt it bluntly, the entire offense stunk it up with Flacco.
Mike: Mike - When will [Jared] Gaither play again? We need him or somebody on the right side.
Mike Preston: Who knows? This is a case study for Dr. Phil. I thought general manager Ozzie Newsome might sign a right tackle a week before the regular season started, especially since coach John Harbaugh and Cameron seemed set on not moving Marshal Yanda from his right guard position. I think Yanda and Chris Chester, now starting at right guard, will get better as the season goes along. As for Gaither, I assume he really doesn't want to play right tackle because they make much less money than a left tackle, and he can hit the open market next season. Now, am I trying to read Gaither's mind? No. They don't pay me enough money to go into the Twi-Light Zone.
Mdmedstudent: Mike - Why did the Cam [Cameron] abandon the run so early? Rice was making nice runs and the O-line did a great job. Don't understand why the Ravens had 39 passing plays.
Mike Preston: The Ravens seem intent on making Flacco a star, and having this super, high tech passing game. In fact, the strength of this offense is at running back where they have three Pro Bowl players in Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. I keep hearing Harbaugh poo-pah this idea of having an offensive identity, that a team must be able to run the ball and throw it as well. That's great in theory, and I agree. But I also believe a team should play to its strength, especially with the game on the line. As much as football has changed, the game is still won by pitching, catching, blocking and tackling. And the winners usually play great defense and can run the football. It's pretty simple stuff.
Rob: Mike - Given the urgent need for more pressure in the pass rush against elite competition. Will you please explain the Antwan Barnes trade for what amounts to a bag of chips?
Mike Preston: Rob, that was a bad trade. I think the Ravens knew that Barnes would not return after this season because he was a free agent and didn't want to backup Suggs again. I assume they thought they might as well get something for him. Barnes was also not a favorite of Harbaugh's. I think the Ravens should have kept him because you will need some fresh legs late in the season. If coached properly, Barnes can be as good as Suggs. He isn't as big, but is extremely smooth. He became a wasted talent with the Ravens.
Gordonlee: Mike - Do you think Flacco's digression could have anything to do with his transition from one QB coach to another in only his third year?
Mike Preston: It's something to keep an eye on during the season, but it would be unfair to all involved to make any comparisons after only two games.
Chris: Mike - How is [Tom Zbikowski] Zibby still returning punts? He ran more backwards than forwards, he can't be returning punts next week can he?
Mike Preston: If he does, the Ravens should either give him a compass or a road map, and tell him to head north, not east or west.
Jeff: Mike - Why does Joe Cool look so lost out there? Does he just not get it or does he just not care?
Mike Preston: Jeff, he had ONE bad game. Don't jump off the Bay Bridge yet.
Brett: Mike - Is our offensive scheme part of our problem? Mark Clayton has become the Rams top receiver and a huge threat. Why was Clayton so invisible here but for the Rams he is playing how the Ravens envisioned? Did the Ravens just get robbed in a trade?
Mike Preston: I watched the Rams play one game, and during that time, they used Mark in the way I have advocated. You've got to get Clayton the ball in space. Physically, he is not going to beat a lot of defensive backs off the line of scrimmage, but if you put him in motion, or move him around, he will be effective. While here, he just ran comeback or slant routs. He did drop a few.
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