Welcome to our weekly live chat with Ravens reporter Aaron Wilson. He'll join us at 2 p.m., but you can start sending in your questions now.
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OK, here we go with the first question...
Aaron's having some technical difficulties, but he's anxious to answer your question, so hold tight.
I think the chances of them accepting paycuts are low. Restructures are more likely. In the case of both Haloti Ngata and Ray Rice, cutting them would create millions of dollars in dead money and cripple an already tight salary-cap situation with the acceleration of their already-paid prorated bonuses. There's sufficient reason to be concerned about Ray Rice's lack of elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability this season. With Haloti Ngata, although not a 'game wrecker' as a nose guard, they have improved as a run-stopping team other than three games (Buffalo, Green Bay and Pittsburgh). Kelly Gregg was the exception not the rule at nose guard in terms of making a lot of tackles at what tends to be a run-plugging position where few big plays happen. I do foresee significant changes to the roster after the season in terms of unrestricted free agents being allowed to leave without trying to keep them and most of the efforts concentrating on retaining Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe. Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' salary-cap administrator and chief negotiator, has his work cut out for him.
Looks like everything is working now. Sorry for the technical difficulties
I'm confident that Terrell Suggs will be back considering his play and their desire to reach a contract extension with him to remain their defensive leader. It would also benefit their salary-cap situation. I wouldn't be as confident about Ray Rice despite the financial reasons to give him a mulligan and have him back. With Lardarius Webb, his contract isn't that bad and they respect his efforts to rehab his knee even though his play hasn't reflected his shutdown ability prior to a year ago. I think Marshal Yanda's blocking has been affected greatly by his shoulder situation. I do think some players like Sam Koch and Jameel McClain are vulnerable if the team gets in a pinch with the salary cap.
The running game problem is complicated, but here's my summation on the issues that they're dealing with. 1. Ray Rice isn't the same. He's not as explosive, strong or quick or healthy. He looks sluggish. He looked bad even before the strained left hip flexor. I don't think he looks like a guy who had a great offseason. 2. Virtually every running play is over before it can get started due to blocking breakdowns. They either get no push or they allow penetration or they fail to cut off backside pursuit. 3. They aren't stubborn enough with the running game and fail to utilize one of the top lead blockers in the game, fullback Vonta Leach. 4. There's resistance for Juan Castillo's techniques from the offensive line wanting to stick with the old-school blocking approach they used last season. 5. The commitment to run the football isn't there anymore. They've scrapped the I-formation and are going with the spread almost exclusively.
Joe Flacco lost his primary security blankets when they unloaded Anquan Boldin and when Dennis Pitta fractured and dislocated his right hip. Without them, he's not the same quarterback at all. He's hesitant. He holds the football far too long. And he seems to lack trust in his receivers. He obviously doesn't lack arm strength, but seems worried about throwing interceptions. I think the Buffalo game made him a bit gun-shy. He's not playing like he did at all during the playoffs. Confidence is so pivotal to quarterback play, and Flacco isn't operating with the same swagger he had in the playoffs. He rarely gives his guys opportunities to make the contested catches that Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin routinely made in the past in clutch situations.
1. Joe Flacco. 2. Ray Rice. 3. Lardarius Webb/Gino Gradkowski
Aaron, question I was asked today: Will Bernard Scott see any playing time this week as a change-of-pace back?
(If you out there have more questions, fire away and we'll try to get as many in as we can.)
They feel more comfortable now about implementing Bernard Scott since his knowledge of the playbook has increased markedly since joining the team. It's going to come down to injuries at other spots given that Jimmy Smith is still sidelined today with a groin injury. With the struggles that the Ravens are experiencing with running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, it would be a good idea to get someone new involved. Scott has the speed to stretch the perimeter and has pass-catching skills, so using him makes sense. Whether they'll do it, we don't know yet.
They have been going back to more hat-on-a-hat, straightforward blocking techniques. There's been plenty of rumblings behind the scenes from players griping about Juan Castillo, but a decision was made at high levels of the organization that they wouldn't allow players to dictate policy and how the offense will be run. While the Castillo investment, I've heard he's making $1.1 to $1.3 million on a three-year deal as the highest paid de facto offensive line coach, hasn't worked out so far, I think they have to re-evaluate it after the season. It's difficult to significantly change things in the season. Whatever blocking scheme they try hasn't worked. They simply aren't blocking effectively and they're getting killed at the point of attack, especially first-year center Gino Gradkowski.
The San Diego Chargers (4-4), Tennessee Titans (4-4), New York Jets (5-4) and the Miami Dolphins (4-4) are the primary competitors. I would say the Chargers are vulnerable given that they play in a tough AFC West conference with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans are an inconsistent team and it's hard to predict what direction the Jets will go in since rookie quarterback Geno Smith has been up and down.
Aaron was having more technical difficulties, but here's his reponse: "The Ravens should definitely adopt more of a quick-game approach like the Patriots and Broncos. It would increase the rhythym of the passing game, cut down on sacks and allow playmakers like Torrey Smith to be more productive. They need to increase the tempo, and there are simple solutions to do so."
We're going to wrap it up for this week, but please check back in next week when Aaron will take more of your questions...
Thanks again for your questions. Enjoy the game on Sunday.