Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag on Marlon Humphrey, Joe Flacco, grading the officials and more | COMMENTARY

Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag on Marlon Humphrey, Joe Flacco, grading the officials and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Coming off Baltimore’s 37-31 overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14, plenty of questions remain heading into a Week 15 matchup against the host Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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

In your opinion, has cornerback Marlon Humphrey lost a step, is he still banged up, a combination of both, or other/not an issue? — Twitter user @GregCampbe86291

I’m not sure he has lost a step. He played extremely well in training camp but has been hit hard by injuries and missed substantial practice and playing time. He kind of reminds me of safety Marcus Williams, who was out for a while with a pectoral injury and then again with a hamstring problem. These guys can do all the aerobic work they want, but there is nothing like being back out on the field again. Even when they return, it takes a while to get back to 100%.

I think Humphrey can still play at a high level, but I’ve always maintained that he is better on the inside over a slot receiver than outside against a big or fast wideout. The problem is that the Ravens don’t have a true shutdown cornerback. Brandon Stephens has played well at times but he can’t match up with any of the NFL’s premier receivers.

Before making a final judgment on Humphrey, he deserves time to work his way back onto the field. That’s only fair, and he has earned that right with stellar play throughout most of the seven years he has been in the league.

Which players — one on offense, and one on defense — do you feel need to elevate their game to another level the most to help the Ravens down the stretch drive to the playoffs? — Paul in Orlando

Sorry Paul, it’s not just one on offense, but two. Both tackles, Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley, have to play well in the final month and into the postseason. When you look at this team, the most pressing weakness is the offensive line, especially in pass protection. Fortunately, they have quarterback Lamar Jackson, who makes this line look better, but that’s a major question mark.

Defensively, both outside linebackers, Odafe Oweh and Kyle Van Noy, have to play better. Van Noy has played reasonably well considering he joined the team in late September but, like Oweh, he can disappear from games. If both play well to complement fellow outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the Ravens can cover up some weaknesses in pass defense, especially in the middle of the field. Pass defense isn’t strictly on the players in the secondary, but it goes hand-in-hand with the pass rush.

The Ravens are coming into their most challenging part of the season with these last four games. Gaze into your crystal ball and tell us how Baltimore fares against Jacksonville, San Francisco, Miami and Pittsburgh? — Ed Helinski

Come on Ed, why do you want “Swami” on the spot?

I think the Ravens go 3-1, with the loss coming to San Francisco. It’s hard to leave a day earlier than usual, travel and play in a West Coast city on Christmas Day. Actually, it’s absurd, but television rights pay big money and the NFL caters to the networks’ desires.

I love the word “balance,” and it’s the key to success in the NFL. The Ravens have that with a top-five ranking in both offense and defense, and that’s hard to beat. Miami has a great offense, but the Dolphins struggle against the run. Jacksonville can throw the ball but has a mediocre rushing attack, and the Jaguars have the second-worst pass defense in the NFL.

The Ravens and Steelers always play each other tough. That game could be played under the bridge on Russell Street and it would be hard to predict a winner, but Pittsburgh could have backup Mitch Trubisky at quarterback and he is good for one or two interceptions a game.

That leaves the 49ers, a team that is even more balanced than the Ravens. But weird things keep happening in favor of Baltimore. Ever notice how opposing quarterbacks suffer injuries before they play the Ravens? Even Miami receiver Tyreek Hill went down with an ankle injury Monday night in the Dolphins’ shocking loss to the Tennessee Titans. Somebody over at The Castle is living right.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick used to say that a team has to be good to win a Super Bowl, but fate also plays a major part. The Ravens have been on a roll and will continue that streak through December and into the playoffs. Fate, good luck or spiritual faith has been on their side.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Cleveland played the Ravens in the playoffs with Joe Flacco at quarterback? — Bob in NC

It would be fun, but stressful at the same time. Flacco was well-liked here in Baltimore and has left a strong legacy. Meanwhile, Jackson is trying to leave a championship legacy of his own.

Most Ravens fans want Flacco to do well but not succeed in a matchup against Baltimore. Professionally, that would be a great week for the media, even though neither Jackson nor Flacco say very much. But both are very competitive.

It would be kind of fun.

Any thoughts to giving a grade about the officiating each game? This is a huge part of the game story many weeks. — Twitter user @Timothy19430971

Nope, because I would give them an “F” every week. Officials have become more involved in determining the outcome of games than ever and it shouldn’t be that way. They miss a lot of obvious calls, and I don’t understand how they have instant replay and still can’t get the call right.

I understand there are situational or “bang-bang” plays, but officials are making costly mistakes every week. Sometimes, they become too flag happy and it slows down the pace of the game. It’s been an ugly year for the zebras.

So, only one grade every week: “F.”

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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