Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions after the Ravens' 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Dan in Clearwater, Fla.: Mike, on the horrible defense -- personnel or scheme?
Mike Preston: Dan, we can't talk about the scheme right now because the personnel is poor. The Ravens are playing with a lot of new faces in the front seven, but they haven't shown much improvement since training camp and the start of the season. Except for Haloti Ngata, there hasn't been one player that sticks out from that front group. The Ravens might have one of the best teams in the AFC, but they are rebuilding on defense. It's tough watching opposing teams gut the Ravens' run defense every week. In the past decade, run defense had been a source of pride. Now, it's disgusting, as Ngata pointed out recently.
Andy In Hagerstown: I've been focusing very closely on the defense this year. I know that we no longer have Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs is out. But I have seen poor tackling, lack of gap integrity and defensive discipline. It looks to me like several defensive players have taken a step backwards. I don't believe the sum talent level on this defense is as poor as our rankings would indicate. We are setting some negative records here. So my question to you is are there questions beginning to surface about how Dean Pees coaches and runs this defense?
Mike Preston: Andy, there have been times when I have questioned Pees. I thought against Kansas City the Ravens played a Bill Belichick defense from the 1970s and 1980s, where it was more read and react instead of attacking. For instance, the Ravens inside linebackers were way too far off the line of scrimmage, which allowed the Chiefs to make them stationary targets and pound away.
But it's not all about schemes. Tackling is about attitude and want. You don't get to the NFL and then just forget how to tackle. You were right about lack of gap integrity and discipline. I think some of these guys don't know their assignments. There were occasions when linebackers crashed the gaps and ran into the backs of defensive linemen. I wouldn't go too hard on Pees right now because the Ravens lack talent. But it's fair to keep an eye on him down the road.
Richard in Dallas: Are Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding so much better than their replacements? What's up with Pernell McPhee? I thought he was going to be a star? The dramatic decline cannot be attributable to only not having Suggs ... can it?!?
Mike Preston: McPhee has struggled with several injuries during the offseason and at the start of training camp, as well as the regular season. I think he has good potential and could become a top player once he allows his body to heal and he gets a good offseason in the weight room. He has the potential to be an every-down player, and the Ravens don't have many of those types on the roster.
Is he in the same class as Johnson and Redding? No.
John Carr: Do you think the Ray Lewis injury is a good or bad thing? When Ray was out last year for a few games, the Ravens were more aggressive and dominant.
Mike Preston: It's a tough call. For a player that has been so dominant and meant so much to the Ravens, you feel bad for him because he has been the face of the franchise and an ambassador for the NFL. But this season has been his worst and Lewis was getting pushed around a lot, especially over the past two weeks. I think Lewis will rehabilitate, train hard and come back next season. He is too much of a warrior to allow an injury to force him from the game.
If I were him, I'd retire because there is little else to prove. He is the best middle linebacker to ever play the game and he does have a Super Bowl ring on his finger and 13 Pro Bowl appearances.
Greg Haynes: With the increasingly depleted defense, do you think the Ravens will look at making some trades (before the deadline) or waiver pickups to solidify the defense? I know they value draft picks over trades in most cases, but it seems like we need some new bodies to bring the D back to respectability.
Mike Preston: At this point in the year, the Ravens aren't going to make any blockbuster trades. Despite the injuries to Lewis and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens have some capable backups and they will be fine. They will look for some players, but they aren't of starting caliber. They'll probably add some players to bolster the special teams.
Jeff Stone: How is it that on two critical long-yardage plays, the most consistent and reliable receiver on the Cowboys, Jason Witten, is virtually uncovered and catches passes for first downs to continue drives? It’s not that I am the only one who knows how good he is. You graded the secondary a C+ but these had to be Fs.