Q&A with Mike Preston

J.Y., Villanova, Pa.: Mike, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Now that we're sitting in third place, we're in line to really play some smashmouth ball against our division rivals. If we keep playing more like we did in the first half against the Browns rather than the second half, how far do you think we will go? Thanks!

Mike Preston: The best case scenario for the team appears to be 9-7, 8-8, and 7-9. The Ravens blew two golden opportunities losing to Detroit and Tennessee, losses that will probably haunt them at the end. The Ravens finally won Sunday, which is a good thing considering all the controversy that has surrounded the team during the past week. But it was only the Browns. Let's keep it in perspective. The Ravens have like 11 Pro Bowl players on the roster, the Browns have like zero. You never get too high with the highs or too low with the lows. You just try to stay on an even keel.

If the Ravens really want to make an impression, go beat a quality team. Based on talent matchups and their schedule, the Ravens should be 4-1. So far, they've underachieved. We'll know more in the upcoming weeks, but we won't learn a lot from the sorry Bears next week.

Joe, Baltimore: Mike, is it psyche or something? The Ravens play well at home, showing they have the potential to win football games with good defense and an offense that avoids turning the ball over. But why can't they carry this amount of intensity on the road?

Mike Preston: Maybe we should schedule the Jets and Browns at home every week. Let's see, in the Ravens two home wins, they beat a team that had one arm tied behind its back and couldn't throw, and beat a team that couldn't run and didn't hand the ball off on a running play until the second quarter. Teams win at home for numerous reasons. They don't travel, they're in familiar surroundings, they don't have to deal with the crowd and they're more accountable because they're on home turf. Good teams win anywhere: home, on the road, in the parking lot at Kmart. For some reason, in the last two years, the Ravens haven't gotten it done. But there's a good chance they can pick up a 'W' Sunday against Da Bears (who are only a little better than Da Browns), another team that has one arm tied behind its back because their quarterback is a rookie.

PFC John Milway, Bel Air: I'm a soldier currently in Iraq and have been unable to see any Ravens football, but I have one question: Is Jamal Lewis finished? The way his stats look, I'm thinking we should just let him leave and not even franchise him. Can we trade him?

Mike Preston: If the Ravens are going to trade him, they better do it soon because he is in the last year of his contract. It's hard to read Lewis. He has the explosion, but is indecisive. He just seems to be a tad slow when it comes to cutting and accelerating. We're only five games into the season, so there is time to make a decision. Before the critics come down on Lewis too hard, they should look at the Ravens offensive line. There aren't a lot of holes either. Lewis and Chester Taylor make the offensive line look a lot better than it really is.

Mark, Catonsville: Do you think the Ravens should sign Chester Taylor to a long-term deal and let Jamal Lewis walk after the season? Taylor has always been productive, would be cheaper to lock up, and I'd hate to see him pull a Priest Holmes on us. What do you think?

Mike Preston: Before the Ravens choose Taylor over Lewis, they better decide what kind of offense they want to run. In their present form, Lewis is the better fit because the Ravens have a north and south running game, and they need a power back like Lewis at halfback. If the Ravens keep Taylor, there has to be some modification because he can't carry the ball 30 to 35 times a game. Holmes is successful in Kansas City because the offense is diversified. Holmes can line up outside or in the slot as a receiver. The Chiefs run a lot more screens, and pull their guards more. Holmes is more of a shifty runner than Lewis. There will be much more input than what we just see on Sundays before final decisions on both backs are reached.

Zac, Ann Arbor, Mich.: How much stock should we put into Michael Irvin saying Ray Lewis would quit if the offense doesn't start doing something? I've noticed that Ray has been sitting by himself on the sidelines and does not appear to be to friendly with the rest of the team.

Mike Preston: I'd put a lot of stock into it. Old Ray-Ray and Mike-Mike (two beat names, it's a Miami thing) are bud-buds. I'd say Lewis is at the same point as Ogden in their careers. They came in together, and both are from successful college programs. They have been the face of the Ravens ever since the team moved here from Cleveland and both have played at a high level. The Ravens were expected to challenge for a Super Bowl title, but yet have struggled. If they don't get to the playoffs, the Ravens will probably gut the team and start a rebuilding process. If you're Ogden and Lewis, the two cornerstones of the franchise, do you want to go through that process again?

You have to remember, both of these guys are tremendous competitors and have tremendous pride. As far as Ray sitting on the sideline alone, he has made it clear he doesn't want to the spokesman for this team. He has been in that capacity for years as well as a promoter and general manager. Because the Ravens have balked about giving him a contract extension, Lewis no longer wants to wear many hats, just the helmet of being a football player. But as he sat on the bench Sunday, I did see him taking time to give some instruction to younger players.

As for Mike-Mike, I think he is a goof-goof.

Dave B., Severna Park: Now that it seems the team has reached something at least resembling chemistry on offense, do we dare risk going back to square one and giving Kyle Boller his umpteenth chance in the NFL? I don't think I am being unrealistic saying that none of our quarterbacks are much better than the other. Also, another week with no Alan Ricard. What gives?

Mike Preston: I like the word 'resembling.' The offense is still bad. At least the Ravens tried to be more creative Sunday. Look, a double screen. Hey Mom, a handoff to Mark Clayton out of the backfield. But, it all comes down to the offensive line. Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Dan Marino, John Elway: No one can become comfortable with this offense until the offensive line learns to pass block. Wright will struggle Sunday against the Bears because the Ravens have too many offensive line who can't pass block. It goes back to having substance over style. The Ravens have style, but they have no substance.

Peter, Frederick: Mike, To start, I gotta tell you I go to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and it's hell up here. I can't go anywhere without being pointed out for my Ravens beliefs. The DEAN actually gave me crap for wearing my Ed Reed jersey. ...Well enough of that.It seems as though we always happen to get 8 yards when we needed 9 on third down. It seems the the receivers should be able to know to run the route to the first down. Who is to blame for this: the receivers, QB, playcalling?

Mike Preston: Let me tell you about my son and his cap. We live out in Carroll County, and my son has the gall to wear a baseball cap with 'Redneck' written on it. You want to explain that one? So I say, son, you can wear it around the house, but if you wear it out in public I will swear that you're adopted...

Well, enough of that...

It's coaching. If it happened a few times a year, you might say the receiver is cheating on the route, and that can happen. But it happens so much, you have to point your finger at coaching. But maybe help is on the way. They did run a double screen. It didn't work, but at least they tried it. I suggest the Ravens blow up the first down markers, make them 20 feet tall and paint them bright orange. Maybe then, the receivers will know to work to the marker or two yards beyond, and then come back for the ball.

Dave, Upperco: The Ravens continue to be plagued with penalties. What gives? Is the only solution to can Brian Billick at the end of the season?

Mike Preston: Why is it that every problem needs to be solved by firing Brian Billick? If the lights go out at the complex, fire Billick. If the water in the hot tub is too hot, fire Billick. If the Kool-Aid ain't purple, fire Billick.

I'll agree that penalties are a sign of lack of discipline. It's something to keep an eye on. But let's look beyond that. A lot of these aren't offsides, illegal shifts, or too many men on the field penalties. Most of these are holding on both sides of the ball. Defensive tackles are getting caught for holding because they're trying hard to keep offensive linemen off Ray Lewis. Offensive linemen are holding because they're getting beat physically. There is no other reason to hold. O-linemen hold because your opponents either has better leverage, is quicker or physically stronger. I think the Ravens should make the offensive linemen play with their hands tied behind their backs.

Now, for Billick, let's get this straight for the record one more time. Unless the Ravens play several more games like the lackluster effort in Tennessee or act like fools like they did in Detroit, Billick should remain the head coach and be allowed to work this team out of the funk. Regardless of any arguments against him, he has won a lot of games in Baltimore, and the Ravens OWE him that opportunity.

Rob, Baltimore: In your opinion, how is Rex Ryan doing as a first-year defensive coordinator?

Mike Preston: Ryan knows the game, and his players go hard for him. Sometimes, he makes it a little too complex with all the jumping around and movement along the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, I think they're confused which is why you see busted coverages. A good team might hit four or five big plays on the Ravens in a game. That's giving up way too much.

Bob, Phoenix, Az.: Mike. I really like your tell-it-as-you-see-it style, but how has that gone over with the players and the coaches?

Mike Preston: I'm still alive.

Despite criticism from some of my peers who have said no one talks to me, everybody hates me, blah, blah, blah...I get along with the players fairly well. They know that I'm going to write whatever I want without fear of them or the Ravens coaching staff or management. I still talk to a lot of players who have come and gone through Baltimore as well as coaches like Mike Shepherd, Pat Hill, Jim Schwartz, Kirk Ferentz, Donnie Henderson, Marvin Lewis, Earnest Byner, Ted Marchibroda and so on.

I'm not here to be a cheerleader, but to offer an opinion. If people don't like what I write, don't read it. I don't care. It's America. Turn it on or turn it off.

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