Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers readers' questions about the Ravens' game plan in the regular-season finale, Haloti Ngata's return, the team's recent slow starts and more.
The big pass plays to Torrey Smith and Steve Smith were both play-action passes, but in both the Texans game and the Browns game, the Ravens didn't run one play-action pass in the first half. Why doesn't Gary Kubiak call play-action passes in the first half when teams are expecting the run? -- Mark S., Glen Rock, Pa.
Mark, I can't defend the play selection the last few games. The offense has been terrible, but I really can't say why they didn't use a play-action pass in both those games in the first half. I really find that hard to believe, but the limited production against the Jaguars, Texans, and Browns is just inexcusable. It speaks to a problem with the playmakers. As discussed in previous weeks, the receivers are average, the running backs are average, and the quarterback is average. You really cannot expect more than an average offense. However, in saying all of that, the Ravens set a franchise record for points in a season this year. So, again, please name a better offensive coordinator in Ravens history. I am still waiting.
Over the past several years, the Ravens have lost some good unrestricted free agents because of the lack of salary cap space. What is your opinion on trading Haloti Ngata and using some of the money to re-sign Pernell McPhee as well as picking up draft choices to fill other gaping holes? Timmy Jernigan has played well in place of Ngata. -- Eldon D.
Eldon, the way the Ravens handle Ngata will be the most interesting storyline this offseason. Ngata has been a fan favorite and one of the best players on the team since the Ravens drafted him. Now, with that being said, he is coming off a four-game suspension in the middle of a playoff push and will be one of the most expensive players against the salary cap next year. If the Ravens decide to move on from Ngata, I have a hard time seeing a team giving up a high draft pick -- or even several lower picks -- for the aging star, since draft picks are viewed as valuable as gold to most franchises. It is much more likely that the Ravens either allow him to play out his deal, attempt to extend the deal to lower his cap number like Terrell Suggs, or simply cut him. As for Pernell McPhee, I've seen flashes of potential, but not consistency. I'd give him a three-year deal with good money, but I'm not giving him a lucrative contract. McPhee showed up early in the season, then faded a little during the middle, but he has been productive lately. I am not sure you can make a major investment at him at this point.
To what do you attribute the reduced production of Joe Flacco? Do you think he can be a factor in the playoffs? -- Richard S.
Richard, do you read this Q&Asection every week? Simple, the running game is suffering. Justin Forsett is wearing down a little and dealing with a few injuries. The running back-by-committee approach hasn't been quite as successful lately. Hence, Flacco's production is taking a hit. Look at Flacco's history: running game struggles, he struggles. Simple. A lot of people wrote in this week how Flacco carried the team against Cleveland on Sunday. Huh? He played a good fourth quarter. The defense carried the team. A lot of things have to be in place for Flacco to be successful. Overall, though, he is a winner and that's all that counts.
What explains the lackluster starts the Ravens have had the last three weeks? If they had not been playing Jacksonville and Cleveland in two of those games, the Ravens probably would have lost at least one of those games and would not have made the playoffs. -- Mike G.
I am wondering if the Ravens are putting too much pressure on themselves, which caused these painful-to-watch games. There was a lot of happiness over making the playoffs, and rightfully so. However, there was also a great sense of relief. The Ravens know you get into the playoffs, catch a spark, and the quarterback who is a lightning rod around Baltimore suddenly puts himself in a league with Joe Montana. Anything can happen. There was also a shellshock feeling last year when they were suddenly on the outside looking in for the first time during the Harbaugh-Flacco era. Saturday night will be interesting to see which team shows up. The kick-in-the-door, screaming-like-a-banshee, asking-where-the-opponent-is Ravens, or the tight, tense, barely scraping by team that is just happy to be in the playoffs.
Mike, the Ravens started two rookie offensive linemen Sunday. So why do you think John Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal in the first quarter instead of just taking the three points on the field goal? I know he likes to be aggressive sometimes, but other times he is conservative in those situations. I don't get it. – Eddie, Owings Mills
Eddie, that was desperation. The Ravens have been playing extremely tight over the last several weeks. They went for it on fourth down because they thought Cleveland was a bad team that already had their bags packed and the engines running for the end of the season. Then, well, the offense failed again. And continued to fail until midway through the fourth quarter.
You seemed to be pretty harsh on the Ravens in this week's grades. I know it was an underwhelming victory, but a win is a win. Do you think they gained some momentum in the fourth quarter that they can carry into the playoffs? – Sean T.
Harsh? You thought I was harsh? Did you see the first three-and-a-half quarters of that game? It was terrible. The offense barely moved the ball, the defense gave up yards to a quarterback that I still can't name, and special teams had a handful of penalties again. I thought I was pretty light giving in to the holiday season and all. The Ravens beat the Browns. The Browns would lose to most teams in the SEC and probably the ACC. You have to hope that the Ravens got some momentum in those closing moments of the game, or it will be a very short playoff run.
Will Haloti Ngata get right back into the mix as if he were never gone or will the four-game suspension hurt his presence in the middle? – Billy, Bel Air
I would assume, with Ngata being a veteran and knowing what he has to do to get ready, that he will get right back in the mix. It may actually benefit him to have been out these past four weeks to come back fresh and ready to go for the playoffs. If Jernigan is out with an ankle injury, getting Ngata back will be a huge piece for this team on defense.
How did Elvis Dumervil play in Sunday's game? I didn't seem to see him much, but I know he needs to play a big role if the Ravens hope to advance. – Tim R., Baltimore
Tim, Dumervil did not have any flashy plays this week, but he did have three tackles and two assists. He was solid but not great. You are absolutely correct that he will need to have a big impact on the pass rush next week if the Ravens want to advance. Actually, Suggs, McPhee and Dumervil better bring it next week if the Ravens are to go into Pittsburgh and come out with a win.
Do the Ravens have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl or are they a one-and-done team? – John, Perry Hall
John, Christmas miracles exist! The Chargers lay an egg and the Ravens sneak past the Browns in the fourth quarter and now you want them to go to the Super Bowl? I think anything is possible when it comes to the playoffs. However, the Ravens have struggled against teams with decent quarterbacks. They lost both games to the Bengals, split with the Steelers, and lost to the Colts; then you have to throw in two guys named Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to top it off for the playoff teams on the AFC side. Can the Ravens beat the Steelers? Yes, but there will be a prediction article later this week. Check back then.