"Our offensive line blocked well yesterday. If you see it on tape, you’d have to say that."
These were words that nobody expected to hear come out of John Harbaugh’s mouth on Monday. The Ravens rushed for just 55 yards against the Browns, 25 of which were courtesy of Joe Flacco. Flacco was also sacked a total of 5 times for a loss of 27 yards.
This combination of statistics would normally create blame against the offensive line, but Harbaugh defended the offensive line.
The tape never lies, so Harbaugh knows what he is talking about. The Ravens entered this season with what was expected to be one of the most potent one-two punches in the run game with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but halfway through the season the Ravens have a team average of 2.74 yards per carry, which would be a record since the league merger.
The offensive line was so bad that the front office felt the need for a rare in-season trade that acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars, as Bryant McKinnie was deemed insufficient.
Kelechi Osemele struggled mightily this season, his second in the pros, before being placed on Injured Reserve due to back surgery. It is believed that his back injury was affecting his play. A.Q. Shipley, his replacement, was acquired from the Indianapolis Colts for a seventh round draft pick to compete for the starting center position. He now finds himself starting at left guard.
Gino Gradkowski is another second year pro. He was drafted as the heir to Matt Birk, and was given Birk’s approval for starting center. Gradkowski has been up and down this year, but has consistently gotten better as the season has progressed.
Marshall Yanda is the leader of the offensive line as the right guard. A perennial Pro Bowler, Yanda had offseason shoulder surgery and many believe he may have come back too quickly and that is affecting his play.
Michael Oher is the right tackle who has had a mysterious NFL career. Bouncing from left to right tackle, Oher has never really established himself as a high quality NFL starter.
The running backs, Rice and Pierce, have both had their fair share of injuries. Perhaps these injuries are affecting their play, but something is clearly wrong. With Harbaugh even clearing the offensive line’s name, the blame must fall on somebody. Rice is beginning to approach the stage of his career where running back’s skills sharply decline, and he may already be there. Pierce has not been able to pick up the slack and Vonta Leach has barely been able to get on the field.
It is also worth noting that several scheme changes were made this past offseason with the arrival of Juan Castillo, who favors zone-blocking schemes over the Ravens’ traditional man blocking schemes.
With Joe Flacco struggling to pass the ball and the offensive increasingly being put in second and third-and-longs, the Ravens must make a correction in the run game.