The Denver Broncos came into Sunday's game with the best pass rush in the NFL.
Led by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos had racked up an NFL-leading 52 sacks during the regular season.
But that pass rush unit was stone-walled by the Ravens offensive line, which gave up just one sack on the day. The group has been dominant in recent weeks, and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said they are playing at their highest level of the season.
"We had a big test last weekend, and we gave up one sack and kept Joe [Flacco] pretty clean," Yanda said. "Obviously, that's a huge part of what we try to do every week. If we can get that done, Joe can really put the ball down the field. I think it's a great job by everybody across the board."
The Broncos registered only three quarterback hits on Flacco. The lone sack came in overtime when no receiver was open downfield, and the Broncos eventually got to Flacco because he had to hold onto the ball for too long. It was a coverage sack.
"They did great," Flacco said after the game. "I can't say enough about our offensive line. They kept those guys off me all day, and that is a good pass-rushing football team."
The solid play of the offensive line has coincided with re-inserting veteran Bryant McKinnie into the starting lineup. The 10-year veteran didn't start a single game during the regular season, but he took over the left tackle job in the playoffs when left guard Jah Reid went down with a toe injury, forcing the Ravens to re-shuffle.
With McKinnie at left tackle, Michael Oher moved to right tackle and Kelechi Osemele went to left guard. Matt Birk and Yanda remained at center and right guard, respectively. has allowed just two sacks in as many weeks.
"Bryant has played well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It's been a season in the making for him. Sometimes things work out the way that they work out. You don't necessarily see them coming all the time."
McKinnie lost his starting job before the season, then hardly played for much of the year. He dealt with weight issues and a hip flexor injury, but he stepped up his work in practice the last few weeks, which has paid dividends in the playoffs.
"I've always tried to be a pro about the situation and always keep myself prepared for when I do have to play," McKinnie said. "To be able to be put in the biggest games of the season, and against some of these elite pass rushers that I have to keep facing week after week, it's been pretty good. I'm kind of pleased with my play and with the team."
The performance of the line will be key again this week, as the Patriots have a powerful front anchored by massive defensive tackle Vince Wolfork. The Pro Bowler gave the Ravens fits in last year's AFC championship, and the play up front will likely go a long way in determining Sunday's winner.
"Whoever wins the trenches has a great chance to win the game," Harbaugh said.