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Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers readers' questions about the Ravens' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 and more.

Did the offense play in any preseason games? The first half seemed like their first game together. -- Mike K., New Freedom, Pa.

Mike, yes, the Ravens offense played in the preseason. The problem is that the preseason doesn't matter. Every team plays a basic, vanilla package. It tells you nothing. To take it a step further, with the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement governing practice in the offseason, practice doesn't mean much either.

If the Ravens fall to 0-2 after Thursday night, do they need to sign Eric Winston? -- Glenn B.

Why should the Ravens sign Eric Winston? If he was still able to play at a high level, a team would have signed him. He would be little to no help.

It is my understanding that, in the West Coast offense, the run sets up the play-action passing. Well, that sounds great on paper, but what happens if you have no success running the football? What is plan B? -- Trevor J.

Trevor, the West Coast offense is a tempo-based offense. The passes are shorter and need to be thrown accurately. The running game is zone blocking-based in the style employed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. It requires the entire group of offensive linemen to work together. The problem is that the Ravens lacked tempo throughout most of the entire game Sunday.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was and is not an accurate passer. It is what it is, that's a horse that has been beaten to death. One very, very thin thread to hold onto: when Flacco was making decent throws, the receivers dropped way too many passes (see Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones).

The offensive line was having a problem with the Bengals' strong defensive line. They need to get on the same page, work as one fluid group, and open holes or hold blocks. That just didn't happen.

My patience in John Harbaugh is waning. Should I keep the faith or accept reality? -- Jordan S.

Jordan, you should always keep the faith, but I believe in trust with verification. Harbaugh has been a great administrator for the coaching staff and organization as a whole. He touches all areas of the team with his philosophy. That being said, I am worried about the Ravens' direction. This team is supposed to be blue-collar, just like the city of Baltimore. That means a smash-mouth running game, a nasty and intimidating defense, and a giant chip on the shoulder about anything and everything.

However, the Ravens have stated they want to move to a more wide-open, passing-based attack. That is fine, if you have the personnel to do it. Since the Ravens have made the major investment in Flacco, the organization, with the loss to the Bengals, is now a game below .500. The running game has been terrible. The defense is no longer nasty or intimidating. The Ravens need to remember how to kick in the door, screaming like a banshee. Right now, they are politely knocking.

This game was a reflection of the 2013 Ravens – slow-starting offense and defensive failure in the fourth quarter. Can this be attributed to coaching problems? And please tell me how a seventh-year quarterback can make a rookie mistake at the end of the first half, costing his team three valuable points. -- Bob K.

Bob, as referenced in the previous question, the Ravens are providing verification. I am not expecting big things for the Ravens this season. An 8-8, 9-7 season is probably a very realistic expectation, maybe that should be referenced as a hopeful 9-7.

As for the rookie mistakes by a seventh-year quarterback, I will give Flacco credit. He called the play you referenced the worst of his career. He is right. That being said, he should look at the play that ended the game and add that to the list as well. The entire crowd at M&T Bank Stadium was aware of the linebacker bailing out of the middle defense and the cornerback crashing down toward the line of scrimmage prior to the last offensive snap for the Ravens. The only people who seemed unaware were Flacco and center Jeremy Zuttah, who is responsible for line calls.

Neither changed the pass protection. Flacco showed an amazing lack of pocket awareness, as usual, as he was sacked by that same cornerback. The saddest part of that play was that the cornerback came from the front side of Flacco. You can't even blame it on a blind-side hit. Just pathetic.

Why on earth is Chykie Brown in single coverage on A.J. Green? And where are our best defensive players? I saw Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata each make one nice play, but there was pretty much no pressure all game. Speaking of pressure,  where's Elvis Dumervil? Did he even play today? -- Dave S.

I can not explain why cornerback Brown was lined up one-on-one with Green. There was no safety help over the top, either. The Ravens deserved the result of that play. Just inexcusable.

Not much else can be said. A bright side is that they didn't allow touchdowns in the first half even though the Bengals had the ball for more than 20 minutes. The Ravens need linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, as well as Ngata, to dominate. I am worried that age is catching up with all three highly paid stars.

How do players like Justin Forsett and Kamar Aiken come out of nowhere and contribute? Did Deonte Thompson even play? Something tells me there's more to the Bernard Pierce benching than just the fumble. -- Jerry, Lutherville

Jerry, someone had to make some plays. Be happy that someone did. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson was inactive and did not play. As for your hunch on Pierce, you are correct. Harbaugh was looking for a spark, and the fumble gave him a chance to use another running back.

A lot of things to be concerned about from Sunday’s game, particularly Joe Flacco throwing 62 times. The Ravens were never too far behind to abandon the running game. What happened? -- Andy, Hagerstown

Andy, as previously referenced, the Ravens want to be a high-octane, passing-based offense. They just lack the personnel to do that. There are good players on offense. As I have written over the last few years, you can win with Flacco as your quarterback, but you can't win just because he is your quarterback. He needs to be a piece, but he can't carry a team. Torrey Smith is a good receiver. He is a quality No. 2 receiver, but not a No. 1. Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones and company are pieces. No one stays up at night worrying about stopping any of them. Tight end Dennis Pitta is also a nice piece, but he is not in the same league as Jimmy Graham or Julius Thomas. The running backs will be serviceable this year. There are no Nelson Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuuzes in this group though. 

Has Champ Bailey declined so much that the Ravens couldn't take a look at him and maybe even look at trying him at safety? -- Terrance G.

Terrance, please reference the answer to the second question. Insert Champ Bailey for Eric Winston.

I think the dropoff in the Ravens’ defense is the direct result of Ozzie Newsome's poor drafts over the last several years (Sergio Kindle, Terrence Cody, Chykie Brown, Christian Thompson, Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and John Simon). Why does the media seem reluctant to criticize Newsome for the current state of the Ravens defense? -- Joseph D., Bel Air

Because, in Ozzie they trust. Go check out the win-loss record, Super Bowl titles and Pro Bowl players selected over the years.

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