Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

Ravens questions for Sun columnist Mike Preston can be submitted on game days from halftime until three hours after the game.
Donta, Glen Burnie: Is it time to bench Jamal Lewis? It seems like no matter who's behind him (Chester Taylor, Mike Anderson or Musa Smith), everyone seems to do a little better running the ball.

Mike Preston: I think the Ravens will give Lewis one more attempt to get it going Sunday against the Panthers, and if he doesn't, they'll go to Smith or Anderson. I understand Billick's loyalty to Lewis. He rode that guy to a Super Bowl and more than 2000 yards of rushing in 2003. The Ravens built their offense around him. That being said, the Ravens have done a lot for Lewis. They stood behind him when he failed the league's substance and alcohol abuse test, and also when he went to trial last summer on drug conspiracy charges. They publicly supported him even though he had problems with the team last season because of failed contract talks. Personally, I like Jamal, and would love to see him play well, but he just isn't getting the job done.

Ravens head coach Brian Billick has a history of sticking with players too long, like Elvis Grbac and Kyle Boller. I'll just remind him of a few verses from an old Kenny Rogers song, "The Gambler": "You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run."

Mark, Richmond, Va.: Going into the second half, the Ravens were dominating time of possession. Then, they went away from the run and made the game longer. What were they thinking? Shouldn't they have tried to tire that defense out and get a few key points in the second half?

Mike Preston: Part of the reason the Ravens dominated time of possession in the first half was because Denver turned the ball over twice in their first two possessions. I don't know why the Ravens went away from the running game in the second half. I don't know why they do a lot of things they do offensively. I assume the Ravens were trying to jump-start their offense in the third quarter because they came out with the no-huddle. That doesn't mean they can't run the ball, but they didn't. I also think the Ravens were trying to gain some field position because their first three possessions in the third quarter started at their own 16, 12 and 14. Seven of their first nine plays were passes and the Ravens were in their conga offense: one, two, three punt; one, two, three, punt; one, two, three, punt.

Chris, Baltimore: Which gaffe in the game was the worst: Not taking the three points on the road at the end of the half; Sam Koch's 10-yard shank punt that practically put the Broncos in field goal range; or Chris McAlister falling asleep at the goal line when a field goal would have kept it a one possession game?

Mike Preston: So Chris, basically you're asking me would I rather die in a car accident, train wreck or a plane crash. I can't say anything bad about Koch. That kid has bailed the Ravens' offense out of a lot of trouble this season. He was a rookie, playing in his first Monday Night Football game at Denver where it had rained all day. Billick shouldn't have jumped the kid for shanking the punt, but it was on national TV. Billick was ranting and raving all night, providing theater like it was Saturday night live at the Apollo.

I didn't mind that the Ravens tried to score at the end of the half, but the play selection was poor, the pass significantly underthrown and the choice of the wide receiver to use was horrendous. As for McAlister, he has a tendency to guess a lot and often gets caught peeking in the backfield. Overall, he has played well this season, so I guess the play at the end of the half was the worst.

Ross, Rockville: Virtually any "expert" commentary about Steve McNair in Baltimore involves him "still learning the offense." It's week five. When can we safely assume he knows the playbook (or are all these color commentators full of hot air)?

Mike Preston: In fairness, you have to give McNair five to eight weeks of the regular season to learn the offense. That doesn't bother me. What bugs me is that he constantly underthrows passes, even the short ones. There is no zip on his passes and you have to question his arm strength. His decision making, except for the two comebacks, has been poor overall. Regardless of the time, I just don't see McNair or this offense getting much better. We've been waiting for this offense, "a work in progress," to get better for years.

Josh, Woodbridge, Va.: Am I the only one who thinks that Clarence Moore is too soft to play football?

Mike Preston: Nope. Stand in line.

Rob, Baltimore: Mike, after watching pathetic offensive game after pathetic offensive game, when do you start to point the finger at Brian Billick? I've seen good plays run with horrible personnel. That's coaching. I've seen horrible play-calling in the red zone. That's coaching. It doesn't matter what talent we have on offense, we can't do squat. Is Billick to blame for years and years of offensive ineptness?

Mike Preston: He's the head coach, so he has to be the fall guy. We could blame offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, but this offense looks a lot like the one run by former offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. The Ravens have changed receivers, linemen, quarterbacks and coordinators. The only constants have been the scheme and the head coach. That's it, folks.

Johnny, Los Angeles: I still believe the Ravens have a Super Bowl defense, but they never stretch the field on offense. What gives?

Mike Preston: The Ravens have a quarterback who has trouble throwing passes longer than 20 yards and an offensive line that has problems pass blocking. With that combination, the only thing that gets stretched out is your quarterback. The Ravens have limitations. Their offensive game plan for every week is: "Whatever it takes to win, we'll do."

Brad, Barksdale AFB, La.: Is there any doubt after watching so far this season that we need to focus our offseason efforts on rebuilding the offensive line, specifically the right side?

Mike Preston: There is no doubt. If you have a good offensive line, you don't need to have studs at the skill positions. If you have a good offensive line, you can become balanced. If you have a good offensive line, you can run the ball, especially inside the red zone, which is an absolute necessity. If you have a good offensive line, you can dictate tempo, control the clock and keep your defense off the field. If you have a good offensive line ... Enough said.

Zach, Dublin, N.H.: How many points do the Ravens need to score next week to beat the Panthers?

Mike Preston: There is no magic number, but I would start with five times as many as they scored Monday night against Denver.

Ed, Nottingham: Was Kyle Boller's performance in Denver last year any worse than McNair's Monday night? He overthrew Heap for a potential long gain, appeared to fumble without being touched and threw more than a few ill-advised passes.

Mike Preston: Boller's performance last year was the worst by a quarterback in team history. McNair had plenty of company playing poorly Monday night against the Broncos. But last season, the Ravens dominated the game against Denver. One play or one player never dictates the outcome of the game, but Boller's performance was as close as it gets.