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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about coaching staff, playoff matchups and more | COMMENTARY


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Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Coming off Baltimore’s 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, plenty of questions remain heading into the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

Outside of the stellar play by the players this season, I feel like the coaching has really helped Ravens become a juggernaut too. From top to bottom, do you think this is probably John Harbaugh’s best overall coaching staff that he’s assembled? — Paul in Orlando

That’s a hard question and I really don’t know the answer. With Harbaugh, he has reached a level of success in which his teams are expected to make the playoffs every year, and that’s a great standard. He has had to deal with a lot of injuries, but so has every other coach in the NFL. I am not in the meetings or on the field once the regular season starts, so it’s hard to say this was his best coaching staff. I think he has two really good coordinators in Todd Monken (offense) and Mike Macdonald (defense) and Harbaugh selected both.

Monken has come in and taught Lamar Jackson to become a better passer and more complete quarterback. Jackson had his best game against Miami last week as far as accuracy and being able to throw the long ball. Can he do it again? We’ll find out, but that’s the most important piece of the offense entering the postseason. Jackson couldn’t do that in his first five seasons in Baltimore.

With Macdonald, this is his second season as coordinator and the players are used to being in his system and have worked out a lot of the communication problems. The players like and respect Macdonald, and that’s been a major part of their success. The acquisition of middle linebacker Roquan Smith last season was a major piece of putting this defense together.

There has been a lot of criticism of Harbaugh through the years, but his strengths significantly outweigh his weaknesses, especially his organization and work ethic.

Since becoming coach in 2008, Harbaugh has worked hard to improve his relationship with “high maintenance” players and it has paid off. This might not be his best coaching job, but this is his most balanced and complete team, and it’s a reflection of him and his staff.

The Ravens won’t be able to retain all of their free agents because of the salary cap. Would it make sense in the Steelers game to give playing time to some current backups to see if they could start next year? — Harris Levy on X

It might make sense, but that certainly isn’t the main objective. These guys are professionals and they want to compete and win. Harbaugh has already said that Jackson won’t play and I suspect he’ll hold out other stars such as Smith and injured players such as safety Kyle Hamilton and rookie receiver Zay Flowers.

Players such as Smith and Jackson are irreplaceable and Hamilton and Flowers are major weapons. Harbaugh won’t reveal the other players who will be held out because he wants to keep Steelers coach Mike Tomlin guessing, which is a sound strategy.

But the reserves will come out and play hard. The NFL is all about opportunity, and for some of them it’s a chance of a lifetime. There are some who think players won’t give 100% because the game is virtually meaningless, but none of the Ravens want to walk into that film room Monday and see themselves getting beat.

Besides being professionals, there is also a pride factor. No player, regardless of which team he plays for, wants to get embarrassed on game day.

Which team is the worst matchup for the Ravens in the playoffs? — Mike VH on X

The Ravens probably would prefer not to play AFC North rivals Pittsburgh or Cleveland. Both of those teams are familiar with the Ravens and know their strengths and weaknesses better than Buffalo or Kansas City, who haven’t played Baltimore this season.

The Steelers and Browns have played in Baltimore through the years and know what it takes to be physical and win here. Cleveland beat the Ravens, 33-31, at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 12 and Pittsburgh beat the Ravens, 17-10, Oct. 8 at home. The Steelers have won six of the past seven meetings.

Members of the Ravens’ front office staff weren’t happy Pittsburgh kept its playoff hopes alive last week by beating the Seattle Seahawks, 30-23.

Looking at the progression of Justin Madubuike, do you see potential similar growth for Travis Jones? Both were third-round picks. The Ravens seem to have a strong history of developing mid-round lineman like Art Jones, Brandon Williams, Brent Urban etc. — Josh

There are some comparisons to be made. When Madubuike first got to Baltimore, he had some baby fat on him but has worked hard to build up his body. He is a specimen now with great quickness and a great “get off” at the snap, which allows him to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield.

Jones, at 6 feet 4 and 338 pounds, is bigger than Madubuike was when he was younger and has worked hard to transform his body as well. It’s clearly noticeable and he has played well the past couple of games. Jones doesn’t have Madubuke’s quickness, but he does have more bulk and might be stronger. If he has another strong offseason, he could become a force in his third season.

Now that the regular season is coming to a close, the annual influx of mock drafts is appearing. Other than “best player available,” what do you think the Ravens will be looking for in the 2024 NFL draft? — Bob in NC

Bob, they need offensive tackles. They’ve been rotating at the position for the past two games and that’s extremely unusual. Neither starters Ronnie Stanley nor Morgan Moses are probably happy, but the rotation with Patrick Mekari and sometimes Daniel Faalele has worked well. Both Stanley and Moses have been solid the past two weeks, and the extra rest from the first-round bye will help.

But the Ravens have to get younger and better on the outside, and they might have to find two guards as well because both starters, John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler, are free agents at the end of the season.

With Madubuike and nose tackle Michael Pierce on the free agent market as well, the Ravens might have to build on both interior lines.

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