Ravens Insider VIP Q&A column

Scout.com NFL expert Adam Caplan, a NFL Sirius Channel Insider, answers your burning questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the AFC North and the NFL in this exclusive suscriber VIP Q&A column

Who do you think will win the AFC North and why?

Answer: Pittsburgh has the least amount of issues of the four teams as we head into the regular season so they have the best chance to win that division.

While their offensive line is still an issue, the offense clearly is one of the best in the NFL. Defensively they aren't what they once were in the turnover department but they're solid enough.

Cleveland has plenty upside on offense but defensively, the secondary could hamper their chance to be a strong team.

Baltimore's defense should be improved but the offense remains a major issue.

Cincinnati's defense continues to be their Achilles heel. And their once solid offensive line now looks to be very average.

What can fans expect from John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron in terms of scheme, leadership style?

Answer: Cameron will be running his version of former NFL head coach Don Coryell's offense which has been morphed into a power running game along with a deep passing element.

Harbaugh's disciplined approach may not work at first because the players were used to former head coach Brian Billick's relaxed style. But in the end, Harbaugh should win out because the front office should wind up backing him.

Do you think that Chris McAlister is near the end of his career and effectiveness?

Answer: This is something we addressed last season and it continues to be an issue.

With a cap number of over $10 million for next season, the sense is he'll either be asked to take a major paycut or he'll be released.

He clearly doesn't move as well as he used to and some personnel evaluators think he should be playing in a nickel role instead of a starting role at this point in his career.

How good is rookie running back Ray Rice?

Answer: Very solid. He runs with good pad level and with good vision. He also runs bigger than his listed size which is very important at the NFL level. He should be very involved in their offense on a week-to-week basis.

Do you think that Willie Anderson is a big upgrade and, if so, why? What kind of game does he have left?

Answer: He's a solid guy and will provide good leadership but Anderson's best days may be behind him. At 33 years old, you have to wonder if he could still push for a starting job at right tackle. But JungleInsider.com editor Kevin Goheen notes that Anderson did practice every day in training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals so at least he's showing that he's moving around much better.

What's your scouting report on new backup quarterback Todd Bouman?

He always had a better than average arm but Bouman's decision making and overall game has always come into question. The good thing is he's played in the offensive scheme that Baltimore uses previously with Jacksonville and Minnesota. So it shouldn't take him too long to understand what he's being asked to do.

What division in each conference do you see to "lead the pack" this year? Also, will strength of schedule play into how presumed contenders (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Minnesota) are expected to perform throughout this season?

Answer: The NFC East and AFC South look to be the best divisions this season. The only potentially weak team in the NFC East are the Washington Redskins. Their offense looks to be a major work in progress. I don't see a weak team in the AFC South. The Houston Texans could push for a Wild Card spot this year.

I don't get too hung up in strength of schedule because of coaching changes and player movement from year to year. I just think if you're a good team, you'll win a majority of your games no matter who is on your schedule.

Where do you think our offensive line ranks among the NFL? If Terry were taken out and Willie Andersen was added to the right side how much would it improve the OL in those rankings?

Anderson will at least provide badly needed depth at right tackle but whether he could handling the rigors of starting there remains up in the air. If Anderson can show that he's all the way back from his knee problems that plagued him last season then he could be a decent upgrade over Terry. Left tackle also is still an issue with Jared Gaither. The interior of the line is decent and Ben Grubbs is very underrated.

Without a Pass Rush, the secondary is on an island. Last year, Rex continued to blitz, leaving second and third string CB's playing single coverage resulting in a horrid pass coverage. Jarret Johnson and Bart were dropping into to coverage, again leading to miss-matches.

Will the pass rush be effective without blitzing? Is Barnes really capable of being a double digit sack guy? And who is on the field front four or three in 2nd and long and third and long?

Answer: Expect blitzing with Samari Rolle back healthy and with Chris McAlister or Fabian Washington back there. Ryan is the kind of defensive coordinator that's going to be aggressive pretty much no matter what. The coaching staff believes Antwan Barnes will provide a really nice role as an edge rusher--something Dan Cody never provided. Barnes, Terrell Suggs, and Trevor Pryce could turn out to be a nice pass-rushing threesome.

Flacco is being forced into service as a result of unforeseen circumstances. I think the preference of the Raven Management was to allow Flacco to progress by holding a clipboard from the sidelines for a good portion of the season. I believe that his development in the long run would benefit from a year on the bench. Do your envision any scenario whereby Flacco could return to the sidelines without hurting his confidence/future. Whether it is a result of just horrible (Rookie, O-line) play, horrible offensive line or lack of chemistry and unfamiliarity with players (Heap, Wilcox, Claton, etc.)? Or simply replacing him with Troy Smith after a couple games even if he performs adequately

Answer: Flacco has a good mental resolve and could probably handle playing poorly or being taken out of the game. However, head coach John Harbaugh was with the Philadelphia Eagles when head coach Andy Reid decided to name Donovan McNabb as his starting QB. Reid told McNabb he would never bench him and that's been the case to this day. So it will be interesting to see how the coaches handle the situation if Flacco plays poorly for a few games.

I wouldn't say the offensive line will be horrible. I think it comes down to how the two tackles perform. The interior should be fine.


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