Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 20-13 win over the Houston Texans, and the team's upcoming AFC championship game matchup with the New England Patriots.
Paul: I love your column, but you wrote that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren't the players they once were and should make way for some younger players. What do you think now?
Mike Preston: Paul, let me give you a little history lesson here. I was hired by The Sun to give commentary, not to be a cheerleader. If you ask the early players like Michael McCrary, Jonathan Ogden, Wally Williams, Rob Burnett, Brad Jackson or Jamal Lewis, they know I will write about sensitive issues or concerns. When outside linebacker Terrell Suggs struggled years ago, I criticized him. When offensive tackle Michael Oher struggled early this season, I wrote about it. When place kicker Billy Cundiff had problems at the midway point, I suggested the team go out and sign another kicker. So when I saw Ray Lewis and Ed Reed struggling for nearly a month, I wrote about it.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not afraid to take on issues or make suggestions. Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not afraid to second-guess a head coach or a coordinator because I get paid by the Ravens. I don't suck up to players and worry about them appearing on my radio show. I don't care what players say about me because I just do my job. It was a tough column to write and I knew there would be significant fan backlash. But guess what? I didn't give a damn. Never have, never will. Both of those players knew they had not played up to par during the last month and Reed even admitted it after the game. I expected them to play extremely well Sunday.
Because that's what great players do. They respond when challenged. I didn't write the column to motivate them; I wrote it because it was an issue. People had been talking about it, but I just wrote it. If they continue to play well, then they deserve to stay on the field. If they both come back and they both don't play well for a month, I will write about it again.
If you don't believe me, go ask players like Ogden, Williams, Lewis, Jackson and Suggs. It's my job.
Aaron in Florida: What has happened to the offensive line? The blocking [Sunday] for both the run and pass was terrible.
Mike Preston: Bottom line: They got their butts kicked by a physically superior defensive line. But it wasn't just on the offensive side. The Ravens got smacked around on both sides of the ball by a young and talented Houston team.
Richard in Dallas: Chuck Pagano has blitzed early and often before ... and if I remember correctly, it worked!!! Why has he backed off of the blitz so much, especially against a newby QB in T.J. Yates? I know the Ravens had three picks (not because of pressure!), but if they don't bring significant pressure on Tom Brady, he might throw six TDs again.
Mike Preston: The Ravens got the early lead on Houston, so I'm assuming Pagano didn't see the need to continue blitzing and possibly giving up a big play. I understand that, but I would have stayed after Yates until about the end of the third quarter. As for Brady, the Ravens have to give him multiple looks, multiple fronts and different things to digest. You can't just blitz him every play or constantly stay in zone or man coverage. Ideally, the Ravens need to get pressure with their front four and that would take a lot of pressure off the linebackers and secondary. It sounds easy, but Brady is one of the best to ever play the game.
Phil in Annapolis: Is all the criticism of Joe Flacco after the Texans game completely fair? Without the five drops, he's 19 for 27 (a completion percentage just over 70%) for somewhere around 230 yards and two TDs, and we'd likely be hearing how Flacco has finally turned the corner and is ready to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Should we expect better numbers next week against a much weaker Patriots defense?
Mike Preston: I thought Flacco had an average game. His pocket awareness and knowing when to secure the ball still needs to improve. But overall, he threw the ball well and you are right Phil, he did have a couple of dropped passes. Of the offensive players, Flacco was one of the better ones on the field Sunday. As for this Sunday, his numbers have to improve for the Ravens to beat the Patriots. In the second half of this season, I think Flacco has played well and done what was asked of him in the system. I think he will have a good day against New England.
AC in Forestville: Watching [Sunday's] game, I couldn't help but notice how out-coached Cam Cameron was by Wade Phillips. Cam seemed to have nothing for their blitz packages and never made adjustments such as rolling out Flacco or going with draw plays, maybe even fake a reverse. Also, what was his reasoning for throwing twice late in the game with around three minutes left. Why not run clock? If the play-calling is similar next week, the Ravens will get hammered. What are your thoughts?
Mike Preston: AC, I agree, the Ravens could have done more with rolling Flacco out. I thought they could have used some more running plays inside, allowing the offensive linemen to double-team more or use a trap or whatever to slow down the Texans. There has to be more to the Ravens' running game than stretch left, stretch right. But with that said, when you're getting whipped as bad as the Ravens were, very little was going to work.
The Ravens had 15 possessions, and nine ended in punts. They had nine possessions end in a total of 22 yards, even though two ended in short touchdowns. They also had nine possessions that ended in three-and-outs. It was a horrendous performance all the way around, down from the coaching staff to the players. At least going into New England, the Patriots defense won't be as strong. But after watching the Ravens play Sunday, there has to be major concern about the offense.
As for the two throws late in the game, according to the Ravens, running play were called, but Flacco changed them to passing plays because Houston was prepared to use run blitzes. Flacco should have stayed with the run anyway and used up some time, or forced the Texans to use timeouts. If those passes get tipped or intercepted and returned for a touchdown, fans would have run Cameron out of town even though he didn't make the calls.
When Flacco threw the first one, the slant to Anquan Boldin, I laughed when they showed Ray Lewis on the sideline. He looked totally baffled. If there is truth to the speculation that Flacco doesn't call his own plays, maybe we found out why.
Bryan in Pax River: To start the second half, Ricky Williams ran hard and straight for about 4 yards three times to get the Ravens a much-needed first down. When they needed to get in the end zone on fourth down, Ray Rice got stood up by a linebacker in a hole. I'm starting to wonder why Rice is used in short-yardage stuff, especially against a good defense like this one. Should they have used Ricky for that fourth down? Do the Ravens need to wake up to this downside to Rice? Or am I out of my mind? Thanks.