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O-Line Keeping Joe Flacco Upright, Opening Holes


The Ravens offensive line had physically worn down Pittsburgh's front by the second half of last week's victory over the Steelers.

Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele told reporters he knew his unit had the edge when he saw a Steelers defender throwing up on the field. The Ravens consistently picked up yards on the ground and the line was able to protect quarterback Joe Flacco throughout the night.

The performance from the offensive line was what the Ravens hoped to get from the unit coming into the season. It demonstrated drastic improvement compared to last season, when Flacco was sacked on average three times per game and the run game finished at the bottom of the NFL in average yards per carry (3.1)

"They did a great job," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Anytime you go against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I can stand back there and be pretty much untouched, it's a nice feeling."

The line kept Flacco upright, as the Steelers didn't register any sacks or even a a single hit on him.  He used the time to pick apart Pittsburgh's defense, completing 72 percent of his passes and throwing for three touchdowns.

It was the first time in 13 games against Pittsburgh that the Steelers were unable to sack Flacco.

"That's a good pass-rush team," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They've got defensive ends that can really bring it. They've got a tremendous blitz package that coach [Dick] LeBeau runs there. I thought our offensive line and running backs did a great job protecting Joe. The game plan was very good."

Through the first two weeks, the Ravens offensive line ranks as the NFL's third best unit in pass-blocking efficiency, according to the statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus (PFF). Offensive linemen Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah, Rick Wagner and Osemele are rated by PFF as four of the Ravens' top five players on the offense.

The group hasn't just kept Flacco off the turf. They have also opened holes for the running game, as the Ravens have averaged 125.5 yards per game on the ground. Bernard Pierce has 113 rushing yards and Justin Forsett has 126 yards through the first two games.

"The offensive line did a great job making holes, and we just wore them down in the second half," Pierce said after the win over Pittsburgh where he gained 96 yards.

Improving the offensive line was a top priority for the Ravens coming into the season. When General Manager Ozzie Newsome laid out his plan to improve the roster in 2014, the first item he mentioned was upgrading the offensive line. The Ravens had been pushed around in the trenches during the 2013 season, and the focus was to get bigger up front.

The early returns are encouraging for Baltimore, and the hope is to continue to build off the season's strong opening.

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