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Eisenberg: The Search For Ogden's Replacement

Posted Oct 5, 2013

Plus, a troubling regular-season road trend that the Ravens need to rectify.

The Ravens were living the good life when they could roll out the best left tackle in the business every Sunday. But since Jonathan Ogden’s retirement, which coincided with John Harbaugh’s arrival in Baltimore in 2008, they have searched for his longterm replacement.

They sought an answer in the supplemental draft and fared decently with Jared Gaither for a couple of years, but injuries eventually led to a divorce.

They also fared decently when they tried the regular draft, grabbing Michael Oher with a first-round pick in 2009. He has become a fixture on the line, but it turns out he is a better fit on the right side.

Bryant McKinnie was a 32-year-old free agent when he hit town in 2011, so he was never going to be more than a short-term patch. There have been ups and downs, but the Ravens won a Super Bowl with him playing a key role, so I would judge the marriage a success.

Now there’s a new candidate, Eugene Monroe, obtained in a surprising trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week. He’s going to replace McKinnie as soon as he is ready, which could be Sunday in Miami.

The Ravens acquired him partly because their offensive line is struggling this season, but it is the deal’s longterm aspects they really value. They’re trying to end the long-running drama that has unfolded at left tackle since Ogden exited stage left.

Unable to draft a classic franchise tackle because he never selects high enough, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome cleverly identified one he could grab via trade. Monroe, 26, was expendable because the Jaguars used the second overall pick in the 2013 draft on a guy (Luke Joeckel) who plays the same position.

Now it’s up to Monroe to end the drama. A pending free agent, he has the rest of this season to prove to the Ravens that he’s their answer, worth a longterm investment. He is in his fourth pro season and has never made the Pro Bowl, but he also has never played on a winning team, so let’s see what happens.

Know this: As badly as he wants it to work out, the Ravens want it even more.

Here’s a quick question: When was the last time the Ravens won a regular-season road game? Yeah, it’s been awhile.

The correct answer is November 25, 2012, when the Ravens defeated the San Diego Chargers in the “Hey Diddle Diddle” game. They’ve lost four in a row on the road since then, at Washington and Cincinnati last season and at Denver and Buffalo this season.

It’s a mystifying development because the Ravens excelled on the road in the AFC playoffs last season, winning in Denver and New England. In fact, they’re 6-4 on the road in the postseason under Harbaugh.

But they haven’t enjoyed the same success in the regular season. They’re an under.-500 team (8-10) since 2011 when not at M&T Bank Stadium. Few factors predict their performance more faithfully than the simple act of playing on the road.

It’s hard to know why. Oddsmakers say the home field is worth three points. Teams use the same playbooks they do at home, but the plays just don’t work as well. It’s an emotional game. The roar of the crowd helps.

In explaining last week’s loss in Buffalo, Harbaugh acknowledged the issue, saying, “They were at home, we were on the road. We haven’t played well on the road twice now. We’ve got to figure that one out this week.”

That is true. Starting with Buffalo last week and Miami this week, the Ravens are navigating a run of four road games in a five-game span. They’re also at Pittsburgh on Oct. 20 and at Cleveland on Nov. 4, sandwiched around their bye. Their Oct. 13 game against Green Bay is their lone home game in that span.

They’ll get paid back later in the season when they close with a batch of home games, but they have to end their losing streak and win some of these road games to put themselves in position to make a run.

"We hope by the end of the year we have a good track record of playing on the road,” Harbaugh said. “That’s going to be the goal. We’ve got to get past that.”


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