Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about penalties, Lamar Jackson’s ceiling and more


Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Coming off Baltimore’s 24-20 Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, plenty of questions remain with Baltimore set to host the Cleveland Browns in a key AFC North showdown on Sunday.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

First of all, I really appreciate your work, Mike. Keep it up; you’re a Baltimore sports writing legend in my book. My question: Who do you put the blame on mostly for the illegal formation penalties? Coaches or players? It feels like every single week we have one, going back to the start of the Greg Roman era of our offense.

— Lou LePore

Preston: Lou, thanks for the kind words.

Head coaches always and should get the blame. If you are referring to the Giants game, when the Ravens have 10 penalties for 74 yards, let’s give some credit to current New York and former Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Those defensive line shifts shortly after the Ravens got to the line of scrimmage caused confusion and resulted in four false start penalties, two each by right offensive tackle Morgan Moses and fullback Patrick Ricard. Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens practice against those types of shifts, but it didn’t show in that game. Some of the penalties, like the two for unnecessary roughness, are from a lack of focus and discipline. A lot of the pass interference calls are “sudden” plays, but constant holding from defensive backs sometimes shows a lack of speed. Regardless, the Ravens can’t win with so many penalties. Harbaugh has accepted responsibility, now let’s see what he does about it.

Will Lamar ever realize his full potential in Baltimore? He does things no one else can, but the two or three routine throws he misses each game kills drives. Does he need a new offensive coordinator? Five years in, I don’t know if he’ll be able to put together four games like Joe Flacco did.

— @JBintheCave on Twitter

Preston: Let’s put everything in perspective. In his first four years, I kept an eye on Jackson’s mechanics, which at times were poor. He would have a sidearm motion or throw off his back foot. Jackson has improved since his rookie season, but he will never be a Tom Brady as far as throwing motion.

There are some who speculate that Jackson is trying to make big plays because he wants a new contract or because he knows he is the only consistent playmaker on the team. I don’t believe in either. Jackson sometimes makes poor decisions because that’s his style. Once he picked up that fumbled snap Sunday I knew he was going to throw it because he has done it several times this season and it worked to his advantage. Sometimes it’s good to react and not think, but not in that situation.

I’m comfortable with Jackson at quarterback. He can make plays with his legs like no other quarterback in the history of this league. But he is inaccurate as a thrower and I’m still not sure about him being able to read coverages on the outside. With that said, he is like opening an old box of “Cracker Jack” … you never know what prize will be inside.

Can Jackson win a Super Bowl? Absolutely. He can’t carry an offense with his arm, but he can get his team there if things fall into place. If Trent Dilfer can win a Super Bowl, so can Lamar Jackson. As far as Jackson reaching his full potential here in Baltimore, he isn’t going to get much better than what we’re seeing now.

He plays well early in the game or when the Ravens have a lead, but struggles in crunch time, especially against quality opponents. In the fourth quarter this season, Jackson has a rating of 54.9. That’s the time of the game when quarterbacks become great, and legends are born. That’s the time of the game when quarterbacks earn the big bucks.

The first 10-15 years in Baltimore, the Ravens front office always seemed to be ahead of the curve in talent evaluation for the draft and free agency, always having multiple players that could change the outcome of a game on a regular basis. Now the only real game-changers/game-wreckers on the team are Lamar, Mark Andrews and Justin Tucker. The rest … seems to be a lot of average, slightly above average players, but no real dawgs. Do you think it’s more a matter of the rest of the league getting better with their scouting, and taking some of the Ravens personnel? Or is it finally time for fresh voices and minds to be brought in from the outside, to work inside The Castle? Thanks.

— Paul in Orlando

Preston: That’s an intriguing question Paul, but the bottom line is that the Ravens have to do a better job of drafting. Missing from this team are game-changers or sudden-impact players. Some will point out that the Ravens are a victim of their own success by often drafting from the middle to late parts of each round because they’re always good. But Ray Lewis, Todd Heap and Ed Reed weren’t early first-round picks. They just have to work harder, and adding fresh voices or ideas might not be a bad option.

On offense, the Ravens have some weapons other than Jackson, but they need to do a better job of incorporating them into the game plan. That falls to the coaches. Because of his speed, why not allow receiver Devin Duvernay to touch the ball 10 times a game as opposed to the one he had in Sunday’s game against the Giants? Second-year receiver Rashod Bateman seems to have developed a strong relationship with Jackson on those slant-end patterns across the middle, but those are infrequent. Running back Kenyan Drake had 10 carries for 119 yards Sunday. Why didn’t the Ravens pound the Giants with him more often?

At least there are some options on offense, but the same can’t be said about the defense, which is why three teams have been able to rally and beat the Ravens in the fourth quarter. They just don’t have a dominant player that can take over the game.

So yes, the Ravens have to find more home run hitters in the draft, but they’ve never been big spenders in free agency. If they were, maybe outside linebacker Von Miller would be in Baltimore instead of Buffalo.

Would you give Lamar a huge guaranteed contract?

— Carl Wright

Preston: Nope, not at the current time. I’ve been very consistent on how I would handle Jackson. Unless he takes the Ravens deep into the playoffs this season, I’d put the franchise tag on him next year.

I’d treat him just like the Ravens treated Flacco until he won a Super Bowl in 2012. Once that happened, the Ravens made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Despite the MVP honor and other accolades, Jackson has won only one playoff game during his five years in Baltimore.

Under no conditions would I offer him a fully-guaranteed contract. I understand why players want such a deal, but it makes no sense for the owners in a vicious and physical sport like football.

This will be an interesting offseason for both the Ravens and Jackson.

Mike, what happened to Charlie Kolar? I thought he was supposed to be ready by end of September after the sports hernia.

— Mike Monheit

Preston: Kolar got cleared to begin practice Tuesday. Before then, Harbaugh hadn’t been asked about him since Oct. 3, even though the former Iowa State rookie has been in the locker room and watching practices from the workout room. There was no reason to rush him back with four tight ends — Isaiah Likely, Josh Oliver, Andrews and Nick Boyle — currently on the roster

At 6 feet 6 and 260 pounds, that’s another big body the Ravens can put on the corner or off tackle.

Do you think Lamar would benefit from less or more offensive coaching?

— @KimberlyMoller2 on Twitter

Preston: At this point, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. I bet the Ravens have told Jackson not to throw the ball back across the middle late many times and to secure and tuck the ball when scrambling.

Either he doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. Maybe it’s both. Lamar Jackson is Lamar Jackson. He is going to scramble and improvise, regardless of the system or the coaches. Again, he has made improvements, but he is most effective in run-pass options or on running plays.

That’s his style of play and the Ravens endorsed it four years ago when he became the starter over Flacco.

Now, they have to live with it and see where it takes them.

Have a question for Mike Preston? Email sports@baltsun.com with “Ravens mailbag” in the subject line and it could be answered in The Baltimore Sun.



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