Ravens coach John Harbaugh defends his opinion that Joe Flacco is the best quarterback in the NFL. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The Ravens are coming off a 30-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card round, and they visit the New England Patriots for a divisional playoff game Saturday. As he does each week, columnist Mike Preston took a handful of reader questions about the team.
With the Ravens reaching the playoffs and and winning for the first time without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, can we start to put the questions about this team's leadership to rest? The veterans came through Saturday. -- Jerry, Lutherville
Leadership on a football team is always a question. It will continue to be a question with the Ravens. This organization was just spoiled by having such a strong presence for such an extended period of time. It is encouraging to hear that Joe Flacco finally made a half time speech during week 17 of his seventh year, even it was only one sentence. Quality over quantity, right?
How can you in good conscience continue to maintain that Joe Flacco cannot carry a team when that's exactly what he has done for seven years and did, again, Saturday night? C'mon, man! – JerryB
Through the years, we have discussed Flacco enough. Next question, please.
The Ravens showed that they could beat the Steelers without much of a running game. Justin Forsett never got it going, and he lost his first fumble of the year. I doubt that can happen again. What do the Ravens need to do differently to have greater success on the ground against New England? -- Tim, Perry Hall
The Ravens have to be better at the point of attack. Center Jeremy Zuttah needs to get off the ball better. It will also be interesting to see if Eugene Monroe comes back this week and what the Ravens do with the right side of their line if he does come back. The Ravens also have to be able to spread the Patriots out with three or four receiver sets, and then run the ball.
It seemed like Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams really pushed around the Steelers in the trenches. And, obviously, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and company did their thing on the outside. How does the Patriots' offensive line compare to the Steelers', and do we have hope for a similar performance this weekend? -- Rick T.
Rick, I think the Patriots offensive line is a level above the Steelers offensive line. That being said, the Ravens have one of the best front seven defensive fronts in all of football. Suggs and Dumervil need to get after Tom Brady early and often if the Ravens are to win. The goal, in passing situations, is to get pressure up the middle and move Brady out of his spot, force him to throw going from one side to the other.
With all of the injuries and general poor play in the secondary, it was nice to see them make a few big plays against Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he still threw for more than 300 yards. And Antonio Brown had nine catches and more than 100 yards, but it didn't seem like he was ever a big factor. Who gets the credit – Dean Pees, Steve Spagnuolo, the players, the pass rush? -- Kevin M.
Kevin, the answer is all of the above. Football is called the ultimate team game for a reason. The coaches got the defense ready. The pass rush was there all game. The secondary stepped up. They all get credit, but the biggest difference is the pass rush. A good pass rush can make a lousy corner look average and an average corner good.
Near the end of the first half Saturday, when the Ravens held the Steelers to a field-goal attempt ... if you're John Harbaugh, why bother to stop the clock at 40 seconds when you failed to do it at 58 seconds (when it should have been done)? -- Joe S.
Joe, I agree, if you are going to stop the clock you should probably do it earlier. Also, I think you stop the clock there if you are going to go for the block and try to swing field position for a quick score of your own. It did not make a lot of sense watching it play out on the field.
The Jets gave New England a lot of trouble this season. And they've traditionally done that, despite all their struggles in the rest of the games under Rex Ryan. Any chance that he will help his old team with some advice this week? -- Pete, Ocean City
I would not count on it. Plus, Dean Pees can set up a perfectly good game plan as well. Remember, he spent time in the Patriots organization and knows Brady and head coach Bill Belichick well.
Mike, I know the Ravens are heavy underdogs heading into Saturday's game. And the Patriots' only loss at home this year was to the Bills in the regular-season finale when New England wasn't trying. Can you give me one reason to be optimistic that the Ravens can pull off the upset and go to the AFC title game? – Michelle R., Baltimore
Michelle, so far the Ravens have has a Christmas miracle (Thank you Chiefs!) and a New Year's miracle (Thank you whoever bought the secondary a map). Why not be optimistic? The Ravens have beaten the Patriots in New England in the playoffs before and can do it again. Plus, the Patriots are weak where the Ravens are strong. New England has had problems on the offensive line in the past few weeks, and the Ravens have a strong front seven.
It's the same deal almost every year. A lot of our assistant coaches are mentioned as possible candidates for better jobs elsewhere. Who is most likely to receive a promotion elsewhere this offseason? – Matt, Reisterstown
Matt, so far I have only heard of interest in assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. DeCosta is expectd to stay with the Ravens. If Kubiak gets a head coaching job, some of the people he brought with him from Houston might leave with him. If I were a betting man, I would say both stay.