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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about John Harbaugh’s decision-making, running back rotation, offensive line woes and more | COMMENTARY


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Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Coming off Baltimore’s 23-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15, plenty of questions remain heading into a Week 16 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

For years I have been hearing about this book of statistics that John Harbaugh utilizes to determine whether the Ravens go for 2, or go for it on fourth down. Statistics aren’t perfect, so shouldn’t he make those decisions based on game feel? — Roland Bark, White Marsh

Roland, I agree with you. I think a coach should make decisions based on the feel of the game, including factors such as momentum, injuries, player personnel, weather conditions and whether a team is playing at home or on the road. So many decisions today are based on analytics instead of “feel” for the game or gut instincts.

I think Harbaugh made a decision to go back to gut instincts after the loss to Pittsburgh earlier in the season and is relying more on the feel of the game. Coaches need to stop worrying about statistics and what is trending and go with their own intuition. Some of the greatest football minds in the game did that, such as Vince Lombardi, Don Shula and Tom Landry. The game has changed, but the basics of tackling, passing, catching, running and blocking remain the same.

Even when the pass protection holds up, it seems like Lamar ends up still dancing around looking for a receiver. Why aren’t there more short routes or outlets to get the ball out quickly? — Clarke Fox

Those routes are still in the game plan, but opposing teams start taking that away. Look at the Jacksonville game. The Jaguars came out throwing short and it worked for a while, but then the Ravens started playing more man-to-man coverage and those designs didn’t work. More and more teams are seeing that in the Ravens offense and have started pressing the receivers and taking away some of those slants by Odell Beckham Jr. and even Zay Flowers.

Regardless, the Ravens have to find a way to give Jackson more time. They can gamble and keep in a running back or a tight end to help offensive tackles Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley, but it reduces the number of receivers in the routes. So, the Ravens have to pick their poison. Do they risk going to maximum protection or do they gamble knowing that Jackson can avoid some pressure with his legs?

The choice is obvious. I’m going with Jackson.

With Keaton Mitchell now out for the year, why can’t the Ravens just increase the workload for Justice Hill? Although Hill is not quite as fast as Mitchell, he’s still one of the fastest and quickest players on the team. He has shown multiple times in his Ravens career the ability to break off big plays and he can catch the ball. Melvin Gordon is too slow. Let Hill carry 15-plus times a game and we may be OK down the stretch. — Brian, Allentown, PA

I think that is in the works and Hill will carry the ball more. Gordon isn’t what he used to be, but he is still solid and can gain some tough yards. The Ravens, though, need an outside threat and Hill is the answer. He doesn’t have the speed of Mitchell and few running backs do, but he can get to the perimeter quickly. He did have two big fumbles earlier in the season and I assume the Ravens have reminded him of that this week as they prepare to increase his workload.

Mitchell, though, will be missed. There aren’t too many running backs who can take a handoff to the right, reverse field and still turn the opposite corner for a 20-plus yard gain, at least not in the NFL. Mitchell did that last week against Jacksonville.

Loving the fact that the Ravens are 11-3 and riding high in first place in conference, BUT, lets talk about that offensive line play. Both Stanley and Moses seem to be having their own issues maintaining a consistent level out there. Which OT combination do you think would be best down the stretch; Stanley/Patrick Mekari, or Mekari/Moses? Also, John Simpson’s play hasn’t been stellar either (not to mention his bonehead penalty near the goal line vs. Jacksonville). Replace him at left guard with Daniel Faalele/Ben Cleveland? — Paul in Orlando

Sorry Paul, neither Faalele nor Cleveland are the answers at guard. Both are big and slow, even though Faalele has more upside than Cleveland. As for the tackles, I’d keep rotating them because both Stanley and Moses have struggled, and neither has been stellar in pass protection.

Mekari is an option, but he is small for the position and prone to wear down if he is a full-time starter. So, the Ravens need to continue to milk whatever they can get out of all three tackles. The Ravens are still a good running team, even though Stanley has problems bending at the knees and exploding through blocks.

With the Ravens playing the 49ers this week, do you think Baltimore will keep a few plays/schemes under lock and key and not reveal anything special with an eye on possibly playing them again in the Super Bowl? — Matthew Zink

Heck no. These guys are competitors and they want to win. This might not be a Super Bowl, but there is a lot of pride involved. Whatever the Ravens or 49ers need to do to win, they will try it. There will be no holding back. There is no tomorrow. The winner of this game will clearly be the favorite to win the Lombardi Trophy.

This should be a great game.

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