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Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about the defense, John Harbaugh and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Fresh off Baltimore’s 23-20 Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills, plenty of questions remain with the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals coming to town for a “Sunday Night Football” showdown.

Here’s Preston’s take:

(Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity)

Mike, please tell me the qualifications Mike MacDonald has for being the defensive coordinator besides being a gift to the Ravens from John Harbaugh’s brother. The defense seems to be worse than ever. Based on Harbaugh’s decision to go for a touchdown on fourth down rather than a field goal, it shows he has no confidence in his defense to hold the Bills’ offense. Martindale must be laughing in New York since he is the one who took the fall after last season for the poor defense due to all the defensive injuries.

Bob Kronberg

Mike Preston: If there is one thing I have learned from former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome since covering this team in 1996, it’s patience. Newsome was always willing to give his assistant coaches, front office staff and players time to improve and develop. Before training camp started, I wrote that because of some newly hired coaches and players returning from major injuries, it would take three or four games to figure out where this team is headed.

Right now, the Ravens are in the same situation as most teams in the NFL. Few teams are playing at a consistently high level.

Bob, if you thought Macdonald was going to walk in and wave a magic wand to make things significantly better, then you were way off base. Back in 1996, it took then-coordinator Marvin Lewis two or three years to straighten out his defense because they were used to playing the style taught to them by former Cleveland coach Bill Belichick.

I don’t know all of Macdonald’s pedigree, but he spent seven years in Baltimore as an assistant before going to Michigan, which means he spent a lot of time working in basically the same pressure system instituted by Lewis and other former coordinators such as Rex Ryan and Martindale. I expected to see communication problems, especially on the back end, because most of the starters were held out of preseason games and every coordinator wants to put his signature on his defense. The Ravens haven’t disappointed because they look as unorganized as the old Keystone Cops.

Well, let’s see if that changes.

Macdonald can’t be blamed for some of the team’s other defensive shortcomings. Both inside and outside linebacker play has been poor, so much so that outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul played all but nine snaps against the Bills despite not having a full week of practice. That’s an indictment in itself.

The Ravens play tight coverage for nearly a half, but then lose focus once the other teams adjust. The pass rush has been poor for about four years now, and yes, I would have gambled on selecting a pass rusher in the first round instead of taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.

With all that said, the Ravens had the worst pass defense in the NFL last year, and they rank last again so far this season. This isn’t Major League Baseball, where you can bring up some minor league prospect to help. This staff has to work through it and find the strengths and weaknesses of its players. We can point fingers at what went wrong and who was to blame at the end of the season. All you can do now is just hope and wait.

In the 2012 season, it was reported Harbaugh almost lost the locker room. Any chance of that happening here? I know it’s football and emotions are high, but you don’t see these sideline blowups between coach and player from the Ravens.

Jay Parker

Preston: Oh, I’ve seen blowups before between assistant coaches and a player, but never a head coach and a player. Assistant or position coaches are usually the buffer and liaison between the head coach and the respective players, which is why cornerback Marcus Peters’ blow-up on the sideline Sunday with Harbaugh was so strange. I understand the emotions and tempers flaring but attempting to get in the face of a head coach is a major no-no in the NFL.

I never thought Harbaugh was close to losing his locker room in 2012. Harbaugh is an old-school coach who believes in hard work, team and discipline. He was hired by owner Steve Bisciotti to restore a much-needed work ethic because the Ravens had gotten away from that under Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brian Billick. But in 2012, the Ravens had some veterans — linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Bernard Pollard — who were used to doing it their own way. It was natural for them to “bump heads” with Harbaugh but they put their differences aside because they wanted to win a Super Bowl.

After that happened, it was time for the great departure of those alpha males.

In the case of Peters, it was nice to see a player show some emotion and care because clearly Harbaugh has no faith in his defense, which is why he gambled on that fourth-down call late in the game. Harbaugh has to be careful not to let this situation fester because Peters is respected in the locker room and can influence young players.

Harbaugh is smart enough to figure that out and the two will come to some type of resolution. If not, that could become a major problem in the months ahead.

Mike, since Lamar Jackson entered the league, the teams you need to beat to get to the Super Bowl in the AFC are the Bills, Titans, and Chiefs. Include the Steelers because they are the Ravens’ archrival. Lamar’s in his fifth year and he’s only beaten those teams one time each. Is it time to start asking the question (or past the time) if he can win the big games on the biggest stage?

Jason in Federal Hill

Preston: I’ve been asking two similar questions for two years now. One, can Jackson take the Ravens deep into the postseason? And two, can he win a Super Bowl? He has done just about everything else as far as training, conditioning and film study to improve his overall game, but there is still doubt about him being able to win big games in crunch time with his arm. Jackson wants a new contract but for the kind of money he is demanding, he needs to show he can win big in the postseason. Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco did in 2012, and then the Ravens made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

To me, if you want to get paid big then you have to deliver big, even though I’m still not sure I would give Jackson a fully guaranteed contract.

Why is it that my family and I can easily predict if the Ravens are running or throwing based on their offensive formation? If we can see it, I assume a trained NFL eye can easily predict what they are doing. How is Greg Roman regarded among his peers? Are most teams with an electric running and throwing quarterback running double tights and incorporating a fullback into their attack?

Jesse Walker

Preston: I have had some problems with Greg Roman’s offenses in the past but not this year. Right now, the Ravens are averaging 359.3 yards per game — 217.3 passing and 142 rushing. They are also averaging 29.8 points.

What’s not to like?

I’m not ecstatic about some of Roman’s calls on short-yardage situations and would prefer he run 300-pound fullback Patrick Ricard up the gut for a yard or two or put Jackson out on the edge more in some run-pass-option plays. Overall, though, the Ravens have been successful.

As far as the double tights and incorporating a fullback, most offenses should be able to muscle up and succeed in short-yardage situations. I like the Ravens’ offense being multi-dimensional.

But if this offense is going to take another major step, Jackson has to learn to be able to read and throw to the outside areas of the field.

In hindsight, do you think a defensive end like George Karlaftis should have been one of the two first-round picks this year? I’ll admit he didn’t wow me coming out of Purdue, but watching him with the Chiefs, he seems pretty relentless out there. So far, seems like Kyle Hamilton’s presence has been more of a luxury than need, especially in light that we never ended up trading Chuck Clark, and Hamilton’s snap count seems to have gone down since the Dolphins game.

Paul from Orlando

Preston: As stated above, I would have taken a pass rusher. One of the keys to having a great defense is being able to get pressure with the front four so a defense can drop seven players into coverage. Regardless, the Ravens became enamored with Hamilton, even though they already have Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams on the roster. They also selected cornerbacks Jayln Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams in the fourth round. But the problem is that defensive backs will get exposed if quarterbacks are given time to throw.

The Ravens stuck with their mantra of taking the best player available, but in this situation, it would’ve been good to “reach” on a pass rusher.

Mike, what is the status of tight end Nick Boyle? He is not even sniffing the field these days. Is it physical or is he in the coach’s doghouse?

Dan in Elkton

Preston: Dan, to be honest, I think Boyle is one of Harbaugh’s favorite players, and the team is rewarding him for coming back from major knee surgery after his November 2020 injury. The guy has worked hard to return, but I saw him struggling to catch the ball and limping after major cuts during training camp. He has done nothing wrong to be put in Harbaugh’s doghouse.

Have a question for Mike Preston? Email [email protected] with “Ravens mailbag” in the subject line and it could be answered in The Baltimore Sun.

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