Offensive Line Driving Production


Ravens running backs Willis McGahee*and Ray Rice *did not get very dirty in Baltimore's 34-3 win over the Cleveland Browns last weekend.

In fact, what should have been their toughest runs turned out to be their easiest.

McGahee, who finished with seven carries for 67 yards, tallied two rushing touchdowns against the Browns, a 7- and a 15-yarder. Rice, 11 attempts for 48 yards, added another from 9 yards out.

But even though they occurred within the red zone where a more congested playing field give the offense less room, neither player was touched by a tackler on any of the scores.

Such an occurrence is rare in the NFL, let alone three times in the same game. The fact that the Ravens were able to keep every Brown defender at bay is a testament to the stellar performance of the offensive line this year.

Head coach John Harbaugh*attributes the blockers' excellent execution to a mindset instilled by offensive line coaches John Matsko and Andy Moeller*.

As two of the league's more-demanding position coaches, Matsko and Moeller stay on their charges whether it means extra meetings or an extended walk-thru before or after practice.

"These guys walk-thru like nobody else," Harbaugh said on Monday. "They are constantly [working]. Before meetings or after meetings, during breaks in practice they're working on assignments and techniques. It's really a credit to and a product of the work [they do]. They're also talented guys and they play really hard."

Upon reviewing the tape from Sunday's Harbaugh had to admit that the McGahee and Rice touchdowns were special.

"Those plays are clean plays and it's not very often in this league you see clean plays like that," he continued. "That's a credit to the O-line."

Ravens fans are salivating over an offense that seems to be adding new entries to the franchise annals each week. Quarterback Joe Flacco*set a new career high with 342 passing yards on Cleveland. Wideout Derrick Mason *reached the 800-reception mark and topped 100 yards (118) for the 18th time in his career.

And, Baltimore's 479 total yards were the second-most in team history, just behind the 501 that were racked up in the 2009 season opener.

The line is a major driving factor behind that production.

"It all starts with the offensive line up front," said fullback Le'Ron McClain. "It starts in practice on Wednesday. How we run the ball in practice is how we run it in the game. When we come out on the field, we run north and south and get what we can get."

The unit has certainly come a long way since last season.

The Ravens drafted right tackle Michael Oher*in the first round out of Ole Miss, but it was unclear if he would be able to seize the first-team job. Then, there were some questions as to whether Chris Chester would hold on to his starting spot at right guard with 2007 starter Marshal Yanda *coming back from a season-ending knee injury.

So what happened?

Oher's mean streak, athleticism and penchant for blocking until the whistle blows have added an attitude to the line.

Chester, a second-round draft pick in 2006, is in the midst of a breakout year. In addition, left tackle Jared Gaither*and left guard Ben Grubbs *have benefitted from having a full year playing next to each other.

But perhaps the biggest move was signing six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk* *when Jason Brown left for the St. Louis Rams via free agency. Not only has Birk's steady play shown up on the field, but he brings much-needed veteran leadership to a young offensive line meeting room.

"Matt has tied our whole line together. Matt in his own right is a really good player," Harbaugh noted.

"He does a lot for Joe as far as helping Joe identify some things. He does a great job of communicating to those young guys on either side which direction they need to be going, and that's really important for a center."

As the Ravens' offensive line continues to develop, it could take the offense to new heights.

At least it would lead the way, just as the group did for McGahee and Rice.

"That right there shows you what the line is doing up front," McGahee explained. "I said to myself, I've got to score on this one because nobody's touching me, so you've got to get in the end zone, and that's what I did."

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