Matsko Leads Maturing O-Line

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Witness the 265 rushing yards the team racked up last week against the Dallas Cowboys, which was good for third in franchise history.

Think a young offensive line cannot make adjustments?

Consider how the same unit that let the Cowboys sack quarterback Joe Flacco five times in the first half stonewalled the league's best sacking team in the second half of that 33-24 Baltimore victory.

Such production and protection has the Ravens thankful for the man that shaped the fledgling blockers to the sturdy and seasoned crew they have become today, namely offensive line coach John Matsko.

"The intellectual*part of it, John has done a great job, and our O-linemen have picked that up very well, especially for a young group that hasn't played together," said head coach John Harbaugh* of the 35-year coaching veteran. "I think we're way ahead of the curve with that."

Center Jason Brown agreed, adding, "He's challenged every single one of us. He's broken down film of every single offensive lineman. He knows our strengths and he knows our weaknesses, so that definitely makes us better.

"To have him as our offensive line coach, he has brought us up leaps and bounds in one year."

It had been a long road for the Ravens since Matsko was hired earlier this year after recent successful stints Kansas City and St. Louis. The coach, who is known for his old-school demeanor, inherited a position that was in the process of losing 11-time Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden.

In addition, the Ravens overhauled their depth, drafting two rookies and counting on former backups to step up to the first string.

Matsko began making his mark immediately. During offseason minicamps, Matsko's loud voice could regularly be heard demanding sharp attention to detail as he molded his charges.

At first, such criticism - even if it was always meant to be constructive - may have been harsh, but that was needed when such malleable minds were trying to come together.

"Maybe they'd understand some things, like most young players, can only understand some things early," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, making a point to recognize assistant offensive line coach Andy Moeller. "But now, as they see how it's evolved, and then things make more sense to them, and now they're starting to come together as a group.

"[John] and Andy Moeller both. I think he would tell you the same thing, Andy has had a tremendous, made a tremendous contribution this season as well."

A standard rotation wasn't actually decided upon until June, and even that has since changed, largely because of a myriad of injuries.

Right guard Marshal Yanda was lost after five games because of torn ligaments in his knee. Veteran right tackle Willie Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler who was brought on as a free agent in Week 2, has battled through an ankle injury, left tackle Jared Gaither's sprained right shoulder has made him nearly one-armed at times and swing tackle Adam Terry knee required arthroscopic surgery this season.

But despite all the setbacks and shuffling lineups, the Ravens have remained stout up front.

Baltimore has rushed for 124 first downs this year, second-most in the NFL, and is the only team in the league to have a 400-, 600- and 800-yard runner.

Le'Ron McClain leads the way with 832 yards on 207 carries, followed by 647 yards (166 attempts) from Willis McGahee and Ray Rice's 107 runs for 454 yards.

"From the first day of the mini-camps in the offseason, John and Andy had those guys out here doing all the work - walk-throughs, meeting work, technique work, moving them from different positions," Harbaugh said. "It's just a credit to John Matsko. That's where it starts. He's got to be the best offensive line coach in the league.

"We kind of felt that going into the season, but to see what he's done with this group of guys sure confirms it, in my mind."

Such tribulations brought the fledgling Ravens closer, both on and off the field. Most of the linemen meet regularly for dinner during the week with Flacco, and their families regularly mingle with each other.

"We're like brothers on the offensive line," explained Gaither. "We've been doing this all year, having good games on the offensive line with the running backs toting the rock. I'm extremely proud. We fought through the injuries and are pretty good right now."

And while Matsko, who would rather politely decline interview requests, doesn't like to talk about himself, his peers and players will certainly oblige.

"He's old school, he's tough, he's hard-nosed and he cares," Cameron said. "I think they understand through however they interpret his coaching, he cares. And he knows what he's doing. I think those two things go a long way in any business, but especially the National Football League."

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