Before the 2011 NFL regular season got underway, a lot of fans were concerned that the starting offensive line for the Baltimore Ravens ahd not played a single down together as a unit. The lack of chemistry would be an issue, many said and with the Pittsburgh Steelers up first, it looked like doom and gloom for Baltimore right off the bat. However, the Ravens played almost perfect football in their 35-7 week one win and many gave credit to the offensive line for the success.
Week two was a completely different story as the o-line couldn't open any running holes and the pass blocking was less than adequate, which translated into a lackluster offensive effort in the team's loss to the Tennessee Titans and many blamed the offensive line for the lack of success. Fast forward to Sunday's 37-7 beatdown of the St. Louis Rams and with an explosive first quarter, the o-line again received major kudos for their performance.
What was the difference and what was the common denominator in the three games? Was it chemistry or the actual players our linemen were up against?
Sure, team chemistry is an important aspect of the offensive line, just like it is between a quarterback and wide receiver, or a cornerback and a safety. However, when it comes down to figuring out what went right and what went wrong, lust look at the simple picture. When running the ball, if you block the man in front of you or in your lane, you win that battle for that play. In pass protection, you keep the other guy from getting to your quarterback and you win that play.
Win enough battles on plays and you win the war and with it, usually the game. As it has been said all along here on Baltimore Beatdown, the team that wins the battle in the trenches, usually wins the game. Against the Steelers, the Ravens handily won those battles, especially on the offensive line. Without nary an offensive snap in pre-season, left tackle Bryant McKinnie totally dominated Pittsburgh OLB James Harrison, making him invisible for virtually the entire game. He just won that battle 'mano-a-mano' all game long.
The following week, in a less publicized match-up, McKinnie basically lost that battle. It wasn't a chemistry issue, it was one beating being better than the other on that specific day. Look at what happened this past Sunday when the Ravens were forced to use center Andre Gurode, who had never played left guard, due to the injury to starter Ben Grubbs and the ineffectiveness of his replacements last week. Gurode shut down whoever was in his face all day and QB Joe Flacco has time to find rookie WR Torrey Smith three times and passes for a personal career best 389 yards.
Coincidence you say? I think not. As long as our guys are better one-on-one than the guy coming at them, we will win those battles and with them, the war and the game. In the games we lose, odds are you can look at the battle in the trenches to see where we came up short. For now, we seem to be doing just fine along the patch-quilt offensive line, despite the pre-season concerns. Can you imagine when these guys actually do have that 'chemistry' you were worried about?