Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

November 22, 2011

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Richard in Dallas: Ray Rice broke one good run (that counted). How do you assess the running game without that one burst?

Mike Preston: Overall, the Ravens had 100 yards rushing, so I consider it a good day. No. 1, the running game helped keep the Bengals off balance so they couldn't just go after quarterback Joe Flacco. The running game also helped Flacco in the passing game. Flacco is usually at his best with the play-action game, which is why the Ravens had the big strike to Torrey Smith. Also, when you pound the ball, you wear down the opposition and at the same time you are giving your defense a chance to rest.

So Richard, overall, a good offensive day with balance and opportunities.

Vik in Baltimore: How would you assess Jimmy Smith's performance? He looked to be playing as physical as advertised coming out of college. His interception reminded me of an interception Ed Reed had his rookie year (also against the Bengals) when he fumbled inside the 10-yard line. He also got beat deep on a touchdown, but it is a lot to ask for a rookie to play 1-on-1 with an all-out blitz. Frankly, I'm glad he got that learning experience during a winning performance.

Mike Preston: If you want to evaluate Jimmy Smith, go back and look at Lardarius Webb's rookie year. Smith is big, physical and can run stride for stride with anyone. But like Webb, he is super aggressive. And like Webb during his rookie year, he tries to jump routes and isn't always patient. Smith gave up the long ball because he looked like he has squatted anticipating a short pattern, and then the Bengals went deep on him. Remember how Webb used to get beat because of double moves during his rookie season?

I still think Smith is going to be a good player. If he keeps his nose clean off the field, the sky is the limit.

Paul from Cape Cod: All of a sudden the pass rush has disappeared. Are teams ready for what we are doing or is it lack of execution?

Mike Preston: I think it's a combination of both. Ten games into the season, the opposition has gotten a good look at some of the new wrinkles implemented by first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. They've made adjustments and now it's time for Pagano and the Ravens to re-adjust. Also, Cincy has a good, physical offensive line. They've got a rookie quarterback, and they are protecting him. Another thing you might want to factor in is the best way to throw the ball against the Ravens are the quick release passes. Tennessee did a good job of it against the Ravens, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has a really good, quick release.

Overall, the pass rush has been pretty good for most of the season. It has dropped off in the past two games, but it's not time to panic. Instead, it's time to be creative and give other teams some credit. Actually, I've been surprised by the pass-rushing abilities of Paul Kruger and rookie Pernell McPhee. Kruger has really turned up his game from a year ago.

Howard from Florida: It seems that every time the Ravens put Pernell McPhee in the game he either pressures or sacks the quarterback. Paul Kruger has been doing a good job of this, too. Other than Suggs no one else seems to get near the quarterback other than on a blitz. My question is why don't the Ravens consider going to a 4-3 defense with McPhee and Kruger alternating on one side or replace Cory Redding with one on each side. As it is the Ravens inside linebackers are weak on passing plays. Even the "Great One" should no longer be on the field.

Mike Preston: Oh, oh, Howard. Are you saying No. 52 doesn't belong on the field on third and long? How dare you? That is blasphemy. How dare you?

All kidding aside, one of the reasons you play a 3-4 over a 4-3 is because you have more good outside linebackers than you have defensive ends. The Ravens have always liked tweeners -- guys who are too small to play defensive end and too big to be outside linebackers. With Ray Lewis, you either rush him on third down or get him off the field. He can only jump short, inside routes at this point in his career. McPhee and Kruger aren't strong enough to handle full-time roles at the end positions. I like the way the Ravens use both at this point, and McPhee has the type of body you can build on. Kruger might be a situational player for the rest of his career.

The Ravens do a nice job of substituting players up front. I like the rotation. The problem here in Baltimore is that fans are so used to seeing dominating defenses that they expect to see it every week. I think there is a concern about the lack of pass rush during the past two games, but not enough to facilitate a change in alignment or philosophies. If it's broke, give the Ravens a chance to fix it.

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