Ravens' Breakout Sparked By Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Line

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By now, fans likely know the saying.

A quarterback gets too much blame in a loss and too much credit in a win.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played his best football of the season in Sunday's 38-6 win over the Miami Dolphins, and he deserves plenty of praise.

But multiple players, including Flacco, pointed to the men up front as the impetus to the offensive breakout.

"I'm a big believer in the fact that this game starts up front with your offensive linemen, and I think they played really well today," Flacco said.

The Dolphins entered the game with a stout front seven featuring outside linebacker Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks), defensive end Andre Branch (4.5 sacks) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (five sacks).

"That's a really good defensive front," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We had to control the front. Our offensive line did that. That's quite a statement against that defense. Joe, he made the plays after that was done."

The Ravens offensive line has been jumbled for much of the year due to injuries, but has finally come together the past three weeks.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned from a foot injury that knocked him out of four games, which were not coincidentally all losses. Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda flipped from right to left guard to fill in for injured rookie Alex Lewis and help his ailing shoulder and stay on the field.

Center Jeremy Zuttah has played well for much of the year, Vlad Ducasse has stepped into the right guard spot admirably and right tackle Rick Wagner is playing the best football of his career, per Harbaugh.

But following Sunday's game, Harbaugh said the improvement all starts with Stanley. The rookie No. 6-overall pick has proven to be the X-factor on the Ravens offensive line.

"Ronnie is playing really well," Harbaugh said. "That's probably the main thing. You know Marshal is going to play well, even on the left side."

Harbaugh said Stanley "took a step back, technique wise" when he returned from missing four weeks. Playing for Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo is all about mastering repetition, and that break in practice hurt the rookie.

Stanley had a rough game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first time back, as he committed three penalties and gave up a sack/strip. He was better, but still not all the way back the next week against the Cleveland Browns.

Over the past three weeks, however, Stanley has given up zero sacks and a combined seven hurries. Flacco has been sacked three times over the past three weeks, and the Ravens offense has grown, then exploded. The Dolphins didn't sack Flacco once, and hit him just twice.

"I feel way more comfortable than I did those first weeks back," Stanley said. "I'm really starting to feel back to where I was and feel my technique. It's really a meticulous position. You take time off from that and it's really muscle memory."

Stanley will likely long be compared to Dolphins offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil because the two were both first-round picks this year, and because many pundits rumored the Ravens to be interested in Tunsil.

In Sunday's game, Stanley received a plus-0.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, while Tunsil, who was playing an easier position at left guard, was graded at minus-5.9. And Stanley may still just be scratching the surface.

"I definitely think I can play better," Stanley said. "My foot is not better completely, but I'm just fighting through it. That's just the league. Working on technique has been really helping out."

As the Ravens move forward, they seem to have figured things out on the offensive line, which could pay big dividends down the stretch. In December, the winner in the trenches often comes out on top.

"I feel like the guys are playing hard and guys are doing well. Vlad's doing well and the tackles are doing well and Jeremy is obviously a consistent player as well," Yanda said. "We're blocking them up as best we can, but today was all about Joe."

The credit is flowing both ways in Baltimore.

Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens battle the Dolphins in a pivotal AFC matchup.

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