Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions following the Ravens' 37-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Ron: Mike, in your opinion, can Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and a healthy Lee Evans develop into a good enough receiving corps to win a Super Bowl?
Mike Preston: Sure they can, Ron. You have great speed on the outside, and great hands working the middle in Boldin. You also have two established veterans in Boldin and Evans working with a rookie in Smith. Also, don't forget those two young tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Dickson has good hands and a lot of speed. He could become a deep threat, joining Evans and Smith. They key, as it appears now, is getting Evans healthy, even though his absence could work out well for Smith, who needs the experience. There is a lot of potential with this receiving group.
Eric: John Harbaugh and the Ravens talk about being a team of class and a team that plays sportsmanlike football. During two of our three games, I have seen our coaching staff act in a way that is very disappointing and unsportsmanlike. Trying to throw and score touchdowns in Games 1 and 3 when the game is over is absolutely playing in an unsportsmanlike manner. If I were calling the plays against the Ravens and they were throwing late in the game when the game is over, I would blitz everyone and take serious shots at Joe Flacco and would not be concerned with possible roughing-the-passer penalties as the game is over. Additionally, I would understand if players happen to run into the kicker during the extra point, which sounds like happened in the Rams game. If you are going to try to run up the score late in the game when the game is out of hand, then you suffer the consequences. Blitzing Sam Bradford and taking shots at him late in the game is also wrong. I have no idea who is making these calls, but it needs to stop or I believe cheap shots against our players and injuries will result. I hope you have the opportunity to ask the coach during a media session. I have coached baseball and basketball at the high school level. Only coaches without class coach this way.
Mike Preston: Eric, I understand your point, and Harbaugh has crossed the line as far as sportsmanship. I understand what he was trying to do against the Chiefs in the preseason, and I had no problem with him sending a message to the Steelers. But there was no need to attempt to run up the score on the Rams. Those kinds of things always come back to haunt a coach later. Harbaugh needs to wise up. As professionals, the best respect always comes from your peers, and his might be slipping.
Greg: Why do Coach Harbaugh and his staff insist on leaving starters in when the game is completely in hand? Is it arrogance or stupidity? If Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis or other starters got hurt when the Ravens were up big in the fourth quarter, that would have been one very hollow win, and playoffs might even be jeopardized. It is a long season, so why not get starters some rest/keep them from a needless injury, and get the backups some experience? Seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? What gives?
Mke Preston: John has tried the use the excuse, at least offensively, of getting his young receivers, running backs and offensive line more playing time together. I thought that was understandable in the preseason and the first two weeks of the season, but that excuse is getting old and tired. It's apparent that Harbaugh just wants to run up the score. He recently talked about how low the percentages were of starters, particularly quarterbacks, getting hurt in those situations, but why even play the percentages? Why risk your entire season by having some irrate defender take a cheap shot at Flacco or Rice? Why have Ngata in the game at that point on some meaningless short yardage situation? After all, he and Terrell Suggs are your best defensive players.
After last season, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wanted Harbaugh more involved with the offense. General manager Ozzie Newsome called it the "evolution of a coach." We're still seeing it. With age and experience come wisdom. Harbaugh needs to become smarter.
Bob: Is the secondary of the Ravens now the weakest part of the entire team? If that is not the case, what part of the Ravens is now the weakest?
Mike Preston: Bob, I would say the secondary and the offensive line are running neck and neck. But, it's not like the Ravens are the Rams. If given time, both could become strengths by the end of the season. The offensive line needs more time to play together, and the Ravens have some good young players in the secondary in cornerbacks Cary Williams, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. I think a lot of teams would like to have the Ravens' problems right now.
Samuel: Why does the offense continue to use Vonta Leach on those screen plays? Ricky Williams looks like the guy for those plays to me.
Mike Preston: I have no problems with either player. It's just that Flacco as well as Leach and Williams need to be more aware of down, distance and position on the field. Sometimes, the angles aren't good on those out patterns, and it can be a long throw for a short gain. We've seen it a lot in the first two games. It might be time for the Ravens to give it a break for a game or two.
Keith: Is it just my imagination, or is our offensive line still not clicking on all cylinders? In my opinion, this group has the potential to be very good, possibly the best the Ravens have ever had. But for whatever reason, they still seem to break down too often. Can you give us your opinion on this very important group of players?
Mike Preston: The potential is there, but I'm not sure this will ever be a great group. I like the physical styles of guards Marshal Yanda, Ben Grubbs and tackle Bryant McKinnie. I'm concerned about center Matt Birk's age and health, and not sure if if Michael Oher will ever be more than an average right tackle. The Ravens should be able to run the ball, but I still think they will struggle pass blocking, especially with the tackles.
The Ravens have solid depth, and for the most part, if they stay healthy, should have a good offensive line by the end of the season. Keep an eye on Birk's health, and hopefully McKinnie will round into top shape soon.
Richard: Is Andre Gurode the answer at left guard?
Mike Preston: No, the answer at left guard is Ben Grubbs, vastly underrated and the best offensive lnemen on the team. Gurode is just a stop gap. The offensive line will be much improved when Grubbs returns, because he can play with power or finesse. Grubbs is a tough guy, a throwback to the old days as far as offensive linemen.
Howard: It sounds like Domonique Foxworth is down and out with his knee. It’s not often that you see a player state that “it hurts like hell” when asked about an injury. Do you see Fox coming back this year, and if so, will he mentally be in the game or will he be thinking about his knee?
Mike Preston: His knee injury is basically a two-year injury, and he would have been further along if not for the lockout. Opposing teams had started zeroing in on Foxworth, so it was a good thing for the Ravens to sit him down last week against the Rams. He might see spot duty later in the season, but if the Ravens can get Jimmy Smith back soon, that would allow them more time to rest Foxworth.
John: Granted three games isn't much of a sample, but the team looks pretty good when they attack on both sides of the ball, and rather rancid when they have a passive/reactive game plan. My question to you: Will anyone on the coaching staff take note of this, or can we expect a Jekyll and Hyde season?
Mike Preston: Let's not make any rush judgements after three games. The Ravens tried to attack Tennessee, but physically they got whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The key for the Ravens defensively is to have a strong pass rush to cover up problems in the secondary, and to get the play-action passing game going regardless if it's set up by the run or the passing game. After three games, the Ravens are still trying to find strengths, and because of the young talent on the team, the identity of this team won't be developed for a few more games.
Eric R.: It appears that when a player, coach, position group, etc. is attacked by the media and fans in the week leading up to a game, that entity has a career game. Opening week it was Joe Flacco and the offensive line. This week it was Torrey Smith. Week 2 doesn’t count since the general vibe was that the Ravens were invincible. I’d like to know which entity of the Ravens has been subpar this season, and if we can start attacking it this week. Personally, I’d like to call out the corners. Maybe if the media tears apart the secondary this week, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes will be knocked out of Sunday’s Jets game, Marc Sanchez will end up looking like a stereotypical USC quarterback, and the Ravens will be 3-1 going into the bye. What are your thoughts?
Mike Preston: You're on, Eric. You just called them out, so we'll see what happens this week.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times