As he does after each game, columnist Mike Preston fielded your fan questions following the Ravens' 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Tom in West Palm Beach: It appears the Ravens will head into the postseason as one of the top seeds. But each week, even in wins, a weakness -- often a major one -- rears its head. On Sunday, it was a failure to seize opportunities in the first half and put the game away early. Other weeks, it has been a late failure by the defense and turnovers (Seattle), lack of execution at the goal line (San Francisco), or series of dropped passes (second Pittsburgh game). I know perfection is unrealistic. But do these lapses concern you and what do you feel is the Ravens' biggest weakness headed toward the playoffs, and how do they correct it?
Mike Preston: Tom, every game exposes some sort of weakness because there is no such thing as the perfect game. My two biggest concerns for this team are its ineffectiveness to score touchdowns in the red zone, and that the secondary has given up big plays the last couple of weeks. The big plays have to be a result of communication problems, because there have been times when receivers were left wide open.
On offense, the Ravens had several opportunities against Cleveland but sometimes they dropped passes or their receivers looked confused. By that, there were times when they were in the same area or even tripping over each other. The only thing you can do is keep practicing. The failures are not from a lack of talent or poor play-calling, but simple execution. Pardon me if I sound like John Harbaugh or Cam Cameron, but it's true.
Paul from Cape Cod: Remember the good old days when Unitas was quarterback and it was third-and-short and everyone expected a run and he would fake to the running back and launch one to Orr or Berry? How come Cam never calls anything like that? He's so predictable. Doesn't he have faith in Joe? It's not only winning, but how you win, isn't it?
Mike Preston: There are always several plays a game that any coach would want to take back. But in the last couple of games, the Ravens seem to have found their identity as far as putting the ball in the hands of playmaker Ray Rice. Sometimes Cameron out smarts himself, especially in goal line situations, but he has been fairly spot-on the last three or four games.
As far as winning, the Ravens are 9-3. As long as they continue to improve, there will be fewer complaints from me.
MG in VA: Lots of good play from the Ravens over the past few weeks. One area that I'm a little concerned about is the frequency of deep passes against our secondary. Too often, the opposing receivers are getting behind our safeties, especially Ed Reed. Are teams taking advantage of our coverage play calls? Is Reed cheating too much and not playing deep enough? What are your observations in this area? Thanks.
Mike Preston: The Ravens are working rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith back into the lineup, and he has been the victim of several big plays lately. The Ravens were hoping he would make these mistakes early in the season, but the high ankle sprain injury forced him to miss a lot of time. Unfortunately, he is going to make those mistakes now and the Ravens want to get them corrected heading into the postseason. Smith is going to be a really good player. Next year, with Smith and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens could have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Robert B.: Do you see Jimmy Smith starting opposite Lardarius Webb? It seems as if Cary Williams is getting lost. And when Chris Carr is back, do you see us using him?
Mike Preston: I don't think Williams is lost. I think he gets picked on because Webb is playing so well. I would go after him, too. Maybe near the tail end of the season Smith might replace Williams. But right now Smith is a liability because he doesn't completely understand the defense, and we've seen that in recent weeks. I think Webb and Williams will remain the starters for a game or two, and Smith plays the nickel. As far as a fourth corner, I would use Haruki Nakamura over Carr. Nakamura is playing extremely well on special teams, and the Ravens need to find a way to get the kid on the field more often.
Stevie B.: Do you feel our defense right now is better with Ray Lewis not playing at all? Do you think Ray’s long-term replacement is currently on the Ravens’ roster? If so, who is that player? Thanks.