The offensive line has been a powerful engine for the Ravens' potent rushing attack.
Coming off a franchise-record 404-yard rushing day, Baltimore enters Sunday's playoff game against the Tennessee Titans as the NFL's top running team for the second straight season. However, facing the Titans will be another test for a Baltimore offensive line that has gelled late in the season.
In last year's playoff loss to the Titans, the Ravens were stopped twice on fourth-and-1, after being highly successful in short-yardage situations all season. Baltimore's offense also struggled during its 2018 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, as Lamar Jackson was sacked seven times. Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said those losses have stuck with him, and they are fueling him for Sunday.
"I've always held onto it, dating back to my rookie year, giving up that sack at the end of the game," Brown said. "Last year, not playing well enough to win. Obviously, this year having the opportunity again for the third time in a row, I understand the speed of the game and what it's going to take to win this game. I think as a team we're all bought in."
How well the offensive line has played has been an important part of the Ravens' story this season. After All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle suffered season-ending injuries in November, it would have been understandable if the Ravens' running game suffered. Instead, it flourished. Brown made a seamless transition from right tackle to left tackle. Ben Powers played well down the stretch as the starting right guard. Bradley Bozeman has been a rock all year at left guard, and whether Matt Skura or Patrick Mekari has played center, or Tyre Phillips or D.J. Fluker has played right tackle, the line has played with cohesion.
Baltimore's success running the football has been obvious, while the offensive line has also excelled with pass blocking.
Brown gave credit to his teammates and Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris, who has seen many offensive linemen improve during under his direction.
"I just think as a group the chemistry has been there, which is what happens throughout a year on every team," Brown said. "I wouldn't just say it's me moving to left tackle. I would say it's more a collective group effort with Joe D. and everybody else.
"Coach D. is an incredible man. Very strong, loves his offensive line players that he has in the room and will go to battle for them. Our success up front, a lot of it has to do with him and how he's been able to make us play together as one and play for each other, and play for him. For me personally, Coach D's been there literally from the start, from rookie minicamp on through, and helped me grow into the player I am today."
Now the line wants to carry the momentum it has built into the playoffs.
"You've got to give credit the coaches and those players that are in there to overcome the two losses (Stanley and Boyle) which were significant," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "But this is the biggest challenge yet – this last part of the season. We have our hands full with this defense."
Report: Macdonald Heading to Michigan After Season
According to numerous reports Friday, Ravens Linebackers Coach Mike Macdonald will be leaving the Ravens after their playoff run to become defensive coordinator at Michigan under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Ravens' Harbaugh was asked about the possibility of Macdonald leaving to join his brother's coaching staff.
"I like Michigan," Harbaugh said. "I love my brother. I just don't want to comment on any of that right now. Our focus is on Sunday. I want to keep [it] locked in. All of our coaches are locked in on that. That's what we're looking at."
The 33-year-old Macdonald joined the Ravens coaching staff in 2014, and this is his third season as linebackers coach.
Morgan Cox Named First Team All-Pro, Justin Tucker Second-Team
The Associated Press announced its All-Pro team Friday, and Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox was named to the first team. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was named second-team behind first-team placekicker Jason Sanders of the Miami Dolphins.
It was the first year that long snappers were recognized, which makes the honor historic for Cox. Harbaugh, who was a long time special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, thinks the honor for long snappers is long overdue.
"They should be recognized," Harbaugh said. "They've been an integral part of it for a long time. Back in the 70's, maybe even the 80's…the long snapper would be the center or another player, the tight end or something. Now it's just become so precise. Guys were making 50 and 60 percent field goals, now they're making high 80's or 90. If you're not high 80's, you're not in the league.
"It's a position that plays and really matters. Morgan has been great at it for a long time. It's nice to see it recognized. I'm very happy for him. Congratulations to him and of course his family. He's well-deserving of it."
Harbaugh Talks Locker Room Speeches
During his tenure as Ravens Head Coach, Brian Billick gave some locker room speeches that took their place in franchise lore.
Harbaugh has given some memorable speeches himself. However, if he had something special planned for this weekend, he was not letting on.
"Most of my talks are during the week and then also the night before the game," Harbaugh said. "There are times as a coach when you speak. There are times when the players speak. There's times when other coaches say something. There's times when nothing gets said. It kind of depends on the game.
"If you tried to do that every game I think it would lose its impact. I don't anticipate that being the case Sunday. I think we're going to go in there and just try to play our best football."