Chris: Mike, do the Ravens' fourth quarter troubles have more to do with the defense letting down or the offense going three-and-out because Brian Billick insists on passing the ball on first down?
Mike Preston: It's a combination of problems. Teams have discovered the Ravens don't play solid pass coverage and are going after them. You can't blame it on injuries because this team had similar problems a year ago. Billick doesn't help the defense out, either. Three times this season he could have used the clock with a running game that was effective, but he doesn't have that feel for when to slow it down. I think defensive coordinator Rex Ryan might need to put in more time working with the secondary because it's apparent some of his defensive backs aren't getting the message. That group has talent, but there seems to be some communication problems on the back end.
Tony: Has age become a factor for this defense, or does it just lack overall depth?
Mike Preston: I'm not sure about age being a factor, but it's always in the back of your mind. Ray Lewis, Trevor Pryce, Samari Rolle and even Chris McAlister have been around for a while. But Pryce, Lewis and McAlister are playing well. Again, most of the problems are on the back end of the defense. Besides taking a look at the players, Billick and Ryan have to look at other things such as preparation and the position coaches as well.
Jeff: Why isn't David Pittman playing? Do you think he's better than Corey Ivy? Also, how do you think Ronnie Prude played?
Mike Preston: Pittman didn't play as a rookie last season so I believe the Ravens went with the more experienced player in Ivy. Ivy has performed poorly the past two weeks and so has Prude. What really irritates me is that these guys aren't getting their hands on receivers and are allowing them to get off the line cleanly. If this was a baseball game, I would say Pittman is warming up in the bullpen.
Rick: Do the Ravens have trouble defending other teams when they run no-huddle offenses?
Mike Preston: It hurts the Ravens because they use so many defensive packages, and they can't always get them on the field with teams using the no-huddle. Apparently, the Ravens didn't practice and prepare for the no-huddle last week leading up to the Cardinals game. I bet they will now, and just about every week going forward. At times, the Ravens were confused and didn't even know where they were supposed to line up. Defensively, the Ravens were out of gas in the fourth quarter.
Wes: How come Mike Anderson continues to be inactive?
Mike Preston: I have no problem with Anderson being inactive. Both players ahead of him -- Willis McGahee and Musa Smith -- have played well. In fact, I'd like to see more of Smith running the ball. He seems to have much more explosion than both Anderson and McGahee. The move to sign Anderson two years ago was strictly a panic situation. The Ravens feared they were going to lose Jamal Lewis, and they had also lost two starting defensive linemen early in free agency. They also rushed to sign Pryce, but fortunately he has played well. Anderson just hasn't been able to get on the field. General manager Ozzie Newsome moved too soon.
Gary: How much did Pryce's injury contribute to the lack of pressure on Arizona's quarterbacks? Has the departure of Adalius Thomas been a big factor in that area also?
Mike Preston: Pryce proved last year that he was still one of the best pass rushers in the league. I thought he was finished, but he played well. With him in the lineup, opposing teams have to choose which player to double team -- Pryce or Terrell Suggs. As far as Thomas, he wasn't that great of a pass rusher. Thomas' departure has hurt the Ravens in another area, though -- this season Bart Scott had to pick up some of his responsibilities in coverage, and Scott's strength is as a blitzing linebacker.
Juan: I hear Billick take a lot of heat for his questionable decision-making lately, but shouldn't Ryan take some heat also with the way this defense has played in the fourth quarter the past two games?
Mike Preston: Hmm... Juan, you must be new to the area. Billick hasn't produced a good offense since he became head coach in 1999. I'm not even going to go over the number of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks that have come and gone under him. Ryan has been the defensive coordinator for barely more than two years. In that time, he has had one of the two top defenses in the league. For now, Ryan gets a "get out of jail free card." He gets a chance to work out his problems. Let's withhold judgment for a little while because of his previous success.
Ade: How do you think Scott has played so far this year? Why isn't he rushing the passer as much as he's done in the past?
Mike Preston: I've already addressed one part of your question (Gary's question above). Overall, Scott has played reasonably well. He wanted recognition a year ago, and he got it. Teams are now game-planning for him. Offensive lines are turning their protection to his side to slow him down. Scott is aware of what is happening. Truly great players like Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware overcame strategies geared to stop them. Scott has to find a way to take his game to another level.
G.T.: Two last-second wins at home against bottom-tier opponents. Do you still think the Ravens are going to run away with the division?
Mike Preston: I haven't seen anything that will make me change my mind yet. I don't think the Pittsburgh Steelers are for real. Maybe I'm wrong, but let's see if they can maintain and sustain. Beep. Beep. Look out for the Ravens Express.
Dave: Why does the NFL ban jumping into the stands after a touchdown? Yamon Figurs scored his first touchdown. Shouldn't the kid be allowed to celebrate a little bit?
Mike Preston: I don't think Figurs was penalized. I think it was Devard Darling for jumping in the stands with him. That made it excessive celebration. I understand the NFL's point, but if I were Figurs, I'd have jumped too, and then moonwalked out of the end zone. The kid is a rookie and it was a great moment in his career.