Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston answers a selection of reader questions about the Ravens' 29-14 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Loyal Ravens Family Banished to An Unholy Land (Upstate NY, where we have to put up with Giants, Jets, Bills AND Patriots fans...): Good win for the Ravens. Good to see they could come back then really shut down the Texans in the second half. One concern was how Joe Flacco got nailed in the first half -- there were Texans coming off the edges completely untouched. How did that happen and what do the Ravens do to protect Joe against similar schemes? It didn't look like the Texans were doing anything unusual -- just lining up outside and rushing.
Mike Preston: The Ravens have struggled a lot this season with stunts and loops from other teams, not just in the regular season but as far back as the preseason. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie appears slow at time, and right tackle Michael Oher gets confused a lot by stunts. Center Matt Birk and right guard Marshal Yanda have been solid, but left guard Andre Gurode has struggled. The Ravens can improve in pass protection because you can simulate the stunts and loops in practice, but there isn't a lot you can do when you're getting whipped physically -- except work on technique. At this point of the season, if the Ravens' offense can play reasonably well, few teams can beat them. The key, though, is not to get behind. Flacco has the arm and the Ravens have the weapons, but I'm not sure the Ravens can pass-block well enough to rally far from behind.
Brian in Arbutus: As I am watching Flacco get hit by the Houston D-line, should it bother me that we don't have a veteran backup QB like David Garrard or Jake Delhomme?
Mike Preston: Yes, I would be concerned. I think rookie Tyrod Taylor has potential, but he's not ready for the big time on a regular basis. If the Ravens continue to win and improve, maybe they just go out and try to sign a David Garrard. If this season unfolds like I think it might, it would be a great waste of time to forfeit this year if Flacco goes down..
Anthony: Great win for the Ravens, but why are they having problems week to week with the play clock? Another delay of game penalty, then a timeout after the long pass. Even part of the crowd started counting down the play clock when it looked like they wouldn't get the snaps off.
Mike Preston: Clock management is not one of John Harbaugh's strengths, and it wasn't a strength of Andy Reid -- who was a mentor of Harbaugh's in Philadelphia -- either. Unfortunately in the postseason, where games are usually close, those few seconds can make a big difference. Harbaugh needs to get better and go back to Clock Management School. Or if you have a handbook, just fax it to him over at The Castle. Every head coach has a weakness, and that is Harbaugh's, mainly because he has always been working with special teams and defense -- not the offense -- for most of his pro career.
Scott: Any idea why Coach Harbaugh appeared to be yelling at Ray Rice and Wilbert Montgomery after Ricky Williams' late touchdown? Seemed odd that he was upset after the Ravens just put the game out of reach.
Mike Preston: Nope.
Maybe Harbaugh wanted Rice in the game. After the game, Rice said he wanted Williams in and it seems those two guys have formed a solid relationship. With Rice, he appears to get along with everybody, and he has learned from Williams and former Raven Willis McGahee.
Jerry in Timonium: The Ravens' offense seems unimaginative and unspontaneous, never using the "no huddle" to keep a defense off balance, rarely running wide, or using misdirection. They prefer to run Rice up the middle or pass, except in the red zone, where they appear afraid to throw the ball at all. Would appreciate your views on the play-calling.
Mike Preston: For some reason, Cam Cameron hasn't let Flacco throw a lot in the red zone, and if he did, especially in previous years, it was always on safe routes to the outside. In the past two years, he has let Flacco throw the post to Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin, but that has become predictable. As far as running the ball, the Ravens have made a strong effort this season to get Rice out in space more, and it has worked. Against the Texans, the Ravens probably ran more cutbacks with Rice than at any other time because Houston's running game is very similar to theirs.
As far as the overall offense, it's more wide open and a bit more exciting than in previous years. It's only been five games, and with so many new faces on offense, we shouldn't be overly critical of Cameron yet. He deserves a few more weeks. If the offensive line continues to improve, so will the offense.
Joe of Bel Air: With Torrey Smith's solid play over the last few weeks, what do you see his role being once Lee Evans returns? Do you think he will continue to be a starter or do you see him being the 3rd slot receiver?
Mike Preston: Smith has made some big plays, but he should go back to No. 3 when Evans returns. Evans has much more experience, discipline and consistency than Smith, and he has played in some big games, even though he previously played for the Bills. The Ravens made a trade for Evans and signed him to a new contract, so they'll definitely pencil him in as the starter when he returns.
But it will be interesting to see how the passing game develops with Evans and Smith on the outside, and Boldin in the slot. That's a pretty good trio.
Kevin: Which young Ravens defender has impressed you most this season?
Mike Preston: There are two: Cary Williams and Terrence Cody.
I thought Williams would barely make the roster, but instead he has played extremely well. Despite getting picked on, he has recovered quickly coming back from big plays, and he is strong in run support. He doesn't miss a lot of tackles. Cody is now becoming fun to watch. It was cool watching him do those barrel rolls last week after a tackle against the Texans, and he looks like he is enjoying the game.
With Cody and Ngata on the inside, there is no room to run, no air to breathe.
Ronny: Have you seen John Harbaugh grow as a coach, and if so, what areas has he gotten better at?
Mike Preston: He has gotten better in trying to put his stamp on the offense, and once he does that, he will have complete knowledge and control of the entire team. He has gotten better in organizing his staff, especially with the challenges on game day. I think for the first time this season he is communicating more with his players, especially the veterans. When he first got to Baltimore, it was his way or else. Now he is letting the veterans have a voice and he will get more out of them and his team.
He still needs to work on building relationships with others over at The Castle. He needs to learn how to talk to people, not be so condescending, so quick to point out that "I'm the head coach." If he improves in that area, he could become a really good head coach, one that others want to work hard for.
Oops, forgot one other area of improvement: Clock management. Somebody fax him the handbook.
Justin: Every coach in the NFL is expected to repeatedly echo the phrase, "one game at a time." But do you think Coach Harbaugh is looking ahead to the Ravens' matchup with his younger brother's team, the 5-1 49ers?
Mike Preston: Nope. Both guys are too smart to fall into that trap. It will be a big game when it gets here, but it doesn't make a difference now.
Stuart in Sarasota, Fla.: Several articles in The Sun have compared this year's defense to the Super Bowl defense. Since it appears that Billy Cundiff is our most consistent weapon, why don't we get Trent Dilfer out of retirement to quarterback the offense?
Mike Preston: Only if we can get Jermaine Lewis back as the return specialist.