Here's a question people weren't asking in August. Do the Ravens have the NFL's best offensive line?
Brian Baldinger of NFL Network said no offensive line is better after breaking down film of the Ravens' 41-7 demolishment of the Houston Texans.
Right guard Marshal Yanda is adding to his potential Hall of Fame resume, playing with steady excellence in his 13th season. Ronnie Stanley seems likely to make his first Pro Bowl, with the highest grade of any left tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Left guard Bradley Bozeman, center Matt Skura and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. are also performing at a high level. There's no way the Ravens would have the NFL's highest-scoring offense (34.1 points per game) and top rushing offense (203.8 yards per game) without an offensive line playing lights out. Both Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram II are on pace for 1,00-yard rushing seasons, running behind an offensive line winning its battles up front week after week.
Yanda knows what a stellar offensive line looks like and loves being part of this one.
"We're a consistent group right now," Yanda said. "For you to be a player for a long time in this league, you've got to be a consistent player. I think that all five guys have played consistent football and that's what you need. The offensive line, it starts with us up front, it starts with the D-line up front every single Sunday. We're definitely playing very consistent football right now."
The offensive line will be tested Monday night trying to control Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the league's back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year. Donald could win it a third time this year with 35 tackles and eight sacks through 10 games.
"He's got it all," Yanda said. "He has speed, strength, quickness. He's definitely got the whole package. He's the No. 1 defensive player in the NFL for a reason. He definitely commands that respect."
However, Baltimore's offensive line loves a challenge. The Texans had the league's third-best run defense entering their Week 11 game against the Ravens, but Baltimore rushed for 263 yards and the offensive line dominated. The Ravens gave up just one sack and Jackson had one of his cleanest pockets, and best days passing from it, all season.
Yanda expects facing Donald to bring out the best in Baltimore's offensive line.
"Most guys in this league are competitors, and I'm definitely a very competitive guy," Yanda said. "I'm excited for the challenge. Obviously, we all understand who he is as a player and I definitely respect him. But I'm going to do my best, put my best foot forward."
The Ravens showed faith in their offense line during the offseason. They didn't sign an offensive lineman during free agency. They didn't draft one until the fourth round when they selected Ben Powers, who has been inactive all season as a rookie.
Bozeman was unproven as a starter when he won the left guard competition in training camp. But the Ravens anticipated that the unit would gel under the guidance of veteran Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Allessandris.
"He's a great football coach," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It starts with Joe. Joe is old school. He teaches techniques the way that they've been taught for a long time, proven stuff, and he does it the right way. And we have a bunch of guys that love to work, very talented guys, very physical guys. The last part is continuity. Those guys have all stayed together. They've all been out there practicing, and that's how you improve."
On many occasions, the Ravens' offensive line has shown not only its talent, but its versatility in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's unique attack. The O-line has excelled in many key moments, such as:
The First Play of the Season
The offensive line set the tone for the year on the very first play from scrimmage, providing a gaping hole for Ingram on a 49-yard run that in kicked off a 59-10 rout of the Miami Dolphins.
The blocking on the play was superb, and the design was innovative. Baltimore used an unbalanced formation with Stanley moving from left tackle to right tackle and lining up next to Brown. Bozeman pulled from his left guard spot and threw a nice block, as did fullback Patrick Ricard, and Ingram was off to the races.
On his first play as the starter, Bozeman executed a difficult block, moving from one side of the formation to the other. It was the intitial indication that Bozeman wasn't going to be a weak link. He was going to be an asset.
Lamar Jackson's Fourth-Down TD Against Seattle
Everything about this play showed the swagger the Ravens are playing with offensively. Yanda joined Jackson in pleading with Harbaugh to go for it on fourth-and-2 from Seattle's 8-yard line. The Ravens went with six offensive linemen, adding James Hurst to the mix. They used all three tight ends – Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Hayden Hurst – and put Ricard in motion to give Jackson another lead blocker.
Basically, the Ravens said to Seattle, "We're giving the ball to Lamar, we're putting our best blockers in front of him, and you can't stop it." This is the kind of play that makes an offensive lineman get goose bumps. The line blew Seattle's defensive line off the ball, creating a crease for Jackson, who darted into the end zone.
The play broke a 13-13 tie, and Baltimore took over the game and won, 30-16. If the Ravens do something special this season, this play will be circled a signature moment. And it doesn't happen without the Ravens having supreme confidence, not only in Jackson but in the offensive line.
Jackson hasn't been sacked more than once in each of the last five games. He has avoided some sacks by using his extraordinary mobility, but the offensive line has also provided superb protection.
Much has been made of Jackson's improved throwing, but the protection he's getting from the offensive line has allowed Jackson to put his passing on display more often. He had a clean pocket against the Texans, allowing him to step up, use the fundamentals he's been drilling and throw darts.
Terrific pass protection for Jackson led to Seth Roberts' first touchdown catch of the season against Houston. The Texans rushed five players and the offensive line kept them at bay. As Jackson surveyed the field, he had room and extra time to step well up in the pocket. As Jackson was doing this, Skura was manhandling Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader. The result was Jackson throwing a perfect strike to Roberts.
Pass protection, run blocking, teamwork blocking – the Ravens' offensive line is checking all the boxes.
"Guys are complementing each other – working hard with each other," Yanda said. "We have a good group of guys, hard-working guys who take it one day at a time. It's been fun."