Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Richard in Baltimore: After years of inconsistency, do you think the Ravens' brass is truly sold on Joe Flacco as the long-term solution to our QB plan? In your opinion, should they pay Joe what he wants? Or what are the chances he walks and heads into free agency
Mike Preston: Richard, if the Ravens' brass was sold on Flacco as a top-shelf quarterback, he would already be paid like one. It is really that simple. Quarterback is called the most important position on the field because it is. You don't drag a rookie contract into the final year if you really believe this is the guy to lead your team for the next decade. As for what to do at the end of the season, I think the Ravens should take the same approach they have in the past. The franchise tag is available and should be used on Flacco like Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs. The reason this will benefit both the organization and Flacco is simple: Flacco can go out and try to get the best deal he can from any team, and that would set a market for him. The Ravens would have the right to match the offer or collect two first-round picks from the signing team. It is the best solution available and general manager Ozzie Newsome loves draft picks.
Steven: Why doesn't Ray Rice touch the ball in the fourth quarter? And why does he hardly even touch it earlier in the game?
Mike Preston: I wish I could give you a good answer. I really do. I can't figure it out. The Ravens paid Rice like a star running back this past offseason. The Ravens brought in Vonta Leach two years ago to be his personal bodyguard (and paid him like a star fullback). Then offensive coordinator Cam Cameron uses Rice and Leach sparingly throughout the season. I don't understand it at all. Rice is clearly the best offensive player on this team and should be used accordingly throughout the game. It should be Rice up the middle, Rice to the left, Rice to the right, Rice out of the backfield and then hand him an oxygen tank at the end of the game. Everyone likes to point fingers at Cameron, but it's John Harbaugh's team, and he has the final say on everything.
John in Catonsville: The Ravens continue to be the worst team in the league in protecting timeouts ... they have been forever. Good teams have three timeouts late in the game. With three timeouts we still had a chance on Sunday, but we didn't. Why won't coach John Harbaugh and his staff take this more seriously? Good teams will give up a five-yard delay-of-game penalty and will not take a chance on a lousy percentage challenge to protect a timeout. Why not us?
Mike Preston: John, clock management is an issue for every team in the league. The Ravens struggle with it like all teams. The timeout to save 5 yards early in the second half was not a bad call by Flacco because every yard mattered Sunday with how poorly the offenses were playing. The challenge by Harbaugh was not his best. It cost the team a timeout, but sometimes high risk equals high reward. It did not work out in the Ravens' favor this time.
Say What: The Ravens' defense is ineffective in a blitz and the more players that blitz the less effective they are. Why don't the Ravens coaches recognize these issues and make adjustments?
Mike Preston: The Ravens have to create pressure on the quarterback because they seldom get any with their front four. The only way they can do that is by blitzing. There is not a pass rusher on this team that makes the opponent game plan for them at this time. Terrell Suggs is still recovering from the Achillies injury he suffered in the offseason, and will now have to deal with an arm injury. Paul Kruger has played well at times, but do you really think the Manning brothers, RG3, or Andy Dalton are losing sleep at night over him? Ngata has been dealing with injuries this season as well and has disappeared the past couple of games. This is something that will need to be addressed through the draft. Teams do not let players go who sack the quarterback.
Brian P. in York, Pa.: Forget about calling for Cam Cameron's head. Should Ravens fans be calling for Dean Pees' head after that horrible loss to a third-string quarterback?
Mike Preston: I don't think you can really blame this loss on the defense as much as the offense. The Steelers scored twice on short fields created by turnovers. I think Pees should take a long look at the film and remember who Heath Miller is if the Ravens should have to play the Steelers a third time in the playoffs. I also have problems with the middle of the field being opened, and the Ravens seemed confused when they were playing zone. It's one thing when you get beat one on one. That's the players' fault. But when teams get receivers open repeatedly, either the DC didn't get his message across or the players didn't get the memo.
James from Sykesville: What will it take for Ed Reed to get benched? He refuses to tackle and is getting burned continually.
Mike Preston: His retirement.
Aaron: Why does Torrey Smith seem to give up on the ball so often? He should have had a touchdown Sunday. He seemed to give up on balls all day.
Mike Preston: I can't speak for Torrey Smith giving up on balls but I think it is clear he was frustrated Sunday.
I think the whole receiving corps was frustrated Sunday. They cannot have a clue where the ball is actually going to end up when it leaves Flacco's hand. He has been horribly inaccurate these past five games, well, worse than usual. He misses short, he misses long, he misses to the left and then he misses to the right (kind of like how Rice should be used). Flacco sailed so many balls Sunday you would have thought he was competing in the halftime contest for distance with the high school quarterbacks.
Actually, scratch that. I thought it was the old Punt, Pass and Kick Contest and Flacco was punting but in reality he was throwing.
LordBern: I completely agree with you that was an embarrassing loss to the Steelers. Thinking ahead, what are one or two simple fixes that would yield good results for the Ravens? I think finding a good pass rusher (in free agency) and a new offensive coordinator (sorry Cam). Easier said than done, I know, but I think those two things would be a good fix for next year. I don't want to see us going down the road traveled by the Browns where it's year after year of losing records.
Mike Preston: Year after year of losing records? Oh Lordy, take a breath. Ready, one, two, three, exhale. One, two three, exhale... This is the fifth year in a row of at least nine wins for the Ravens.
Obviously this team has issues that need to be fixed. This team needs to look at two areas closely this offseason while Flacco is on the franchise tag. The offensive and defensive lines need to be addressed. Michael Oher struggles at the left tackle position and would benefit from being moved back to the right. A quality left guard that can play 16 games needs to be found. Matt Birk will most likely retire and center will need to be addressed. Right tackle Kelechi Osmele needs an offseason in the weight room and then a better decision can be made there as well.
As for the defensive line, the Ravens really need a player to help take the pressure off Suggs. Courtney Upshaw is a run stopper, but needs to make major improvements to be a top pass rusher. If not Upshaw, maybe a high pick on a stud defensive end in the draft.
Tom in West Palm Beach: Everyone was saying a loss to the Steelers on Sunday would just delay the inevitable clinching of the division for the Ravens. But the Ravens play Denver and Giants at home, and Cincy on the road. Steelers play San Diego, Dallas, Cincy, Cleveland -- and Ben's coming back. Horrible schedule/great schedule. Who says the division's a lock? I hope not, but I mean, really, this might be the start of a huge collapse. How worried should we be?
Mike Preston: The Ravens have a two-game lead with four games to play. I would not start worrying yet. This is a week-to-week league. The Giants have looked like the best team in the league, and the worst team in the league on back-to-back weeks.
What is to be made of that? The Steelers lost to the Browns last week and beat the Ravens this week. What is to be made of that? Flip a coin on Sunday at 12:59, maybe it will be good Flacco or maybe it will be bad Flacco. I'm not ready to bet on the Ravens to go to the Super Bow, but I'm not ready to sell the house and move to another city because all is lost either.
Aaron in Florida: How am I supposed to wear my Ravens shirt in public and not expect to be laughed at or pitied?
Mike Preston: You're not. Or you could just walk around nude.