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Ravens Offensive Line Showing Drastic Improvement

Posted Aug 19, 2014

The Ravens lead the league in average rushing yards per game (194) through two preseason games.


Yes, it’s just the preseason.

But by every indication available up to this point, the Ravens offensive line is back on track.

An offense is a complex machine that depends on various moving parts to be successful. But if there was one issue that brought the Ravens offense to a halt last season, it may have been the offensive line.

After all, the football adage is that it all starts in the trenches, and Baltimore subscribes to that notion.

The Ravens averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry last season. They gave up 48 sacks, tied for fourth most in the NFL.

This preseason, the stats have flipped.

Through two games, the Ravens have averaged a league-leading 194 rushing yards per game and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro leads the league in rushing with 130 yards and Bernard Pierce ranks fifth with 92 rushing yards. Each has a touchdown.

The Ravens’ first-team offensive line has not surrendered a sack on quarterback Joe Flacco yet. And the quarterback has taken notice.

“I feel great behind them right now,” Flacco said.

“I think they’re playing really well. I think they’re playing really fast. I think they’re mentally freed up to the point where they can just go be physical. For an offensive lineman, that’s a big thing because that’s your No. 1 job.”

Taliaferro’s touchdown in Dallas on Saturday night is a case-and-point demonstration.

The Ravens’ second-team offensive line was in the game. Taliaferro got the ball 7 yards away from the end zone and was not touched on his way in. He eventually ran into a Cowboys defensive tackle that Gradkowski was in the process of pancaking, making Taliaferro stumble to the turf.

Run plays like those have bolstered the offensive line’s confidence. And confidence is half of the equation.

“I feel like as an offensive line, it’s good to set the tone early and come off the ball and knock guys off the ball,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “It kind of exerts your dominance.”

The Ravens offensive linemen knew they had a big task this offseason. Not only would they need to turn it around, but the entire offense would depend upon it. New Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak made that clear at the outset.

“We’ve got to be able to run the football to make the rest of it go,” Kubiak said.

That dedication to pushing opponents on the ground has motivated the linemen.

“We stay committed to the run game this year, which is a good thing,” guard A.Q. Shipley said. “If we run it the first play and it doesn’t get 5 yards, [Kubiak] might run it again. It gives us more opportunities as opposed to if you don’t get success on first down then we’re straight into passing all the time.”

Osemele even suggested that the Ravens may be geared towards running more than passing this year. Last season, Baltimore had the eighth-most passing attempts (619) and 13th-fewest rushing attempts (423). The Ravens were forced to abandon the run.

“With Kubiak coming back in here and him installing this offense with the zone and everything, and play calling being more balanced, and maybe even shifting towards the run a little bit more – just a little – I feel like that should help,” Osemele said.

The Ravens have hope for a better result at each position.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe is entering his first full season with the team after being traded midway through last year. That brings a different level of familiarity.

Osemele is healthy and looking strong after back surgery ended his season early last year.

Center Jeremy Zuttah is the only completely new face. The Ravens traded a reported fifth-round pick for him and he has impressed so far with his smarts and athleticism.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda is the anchor, and he feels he should be in for a better year now that his shoulder is repaired. He played through the injury last year.

Right tackle Rick Wagner is a new starter, replacing Michael Oher, who went to the Titans in free agency. Wagner has been solid enough to be declared the opening day starter by Head Coach John Harbaugh.

“I think we’re playing really confident,” Osemele said. “Eugene has been around the league for a long time, he’s a high draft pick. Marshal has been to multiple Pro Bowls. I’m back healthy. Rick’s been playing better. If anything, we should be better than we were last year.”

Opponents have not yet begun to respect the Ravens’ run game, however.

It’s evidenced by the fact that they have been rushing the passer on play-action fakes during the first two preseason games. They aren’t biting the fake, which has forced Flacco to get rid of the football quicker than planned.

That was the only area of the offensive line that Head Coach John Harbaugh pointed to as having a problem currently. Opponents must respect the run for the play-action passing to take off. That will come with time.

“Overall I think the pass protection has been good so far,” Harbaugh said.

“I [also] feel good about the run game so far. We temper it with it being two games in the preseason. What matters is what you do when it counts. But so far so good.”

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