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Interior Linemen Determine Fate

What, an article on the most boring and anonymous members of the team!? At least the D-linemen are stars in this league. However, the O-line usualy get no press unless it's because they're giving up sacks quicker than the volunteers at 'Our Daily Bread' homeless shelters (a local joke). The Ravens have been one of the few teams that have been decimated by injuries on both sides of the interior line, which is one of the many, many resons this team has failed miserably to live up to the expectations as a result of their 13-3 2006 season.

While most of the injured have returned to the offensive line, they still are not providing the time necessary for the QB to find his open receivers (that may be another problem, but not part of this column). Jonathon Ogden looks to be on his last legs, uh... toe, as since his recent return from the "turf toe" injury suffered at the end of last year still doesn't look right. He contemplated retirement during last off season and the team certainly hasn't given him any reason for hope next year. Eleven years in the NFL and a probably slot in the Hall of Fame should equal a great career which will probably end after this year. Center Mike Flynn has been a long term starter at center. He has returned from injury this year as well, but even prior to the injury he was constantly pushed into the backfield on most plays, leading to QB pressures and short running gains. The right side of the o-line has been steady but is currently manned with either rookies or 2nd year players who have been either overwhelmed or adequate at best. Rookie first round pick Ben Grubbs is quickly catching on a right guard and should be a mainstay at that position for years to come. Rookie right tackle Marshall Yanda is learning on the job, which usually isn't good news for the quarterback. The regular starting right tackle Adam Terry has played well but has had to flip flop over to left tackle during Ogden's injury and is slated to reclaim that spot once Ogden retires. The lack of protection afforded during pass plays will usually determine a QB's success. Trust me, if even Tom Brady was fading back behind the Ravens o-line, he wouldn't have nearly the success he's had behind the steller protection he's enjoyed this season.

Defensively, the opposite has occurred. The lack of pressure on the opposing quarteback has allowed the Ravens to make ordinary passers look extraordinary. The combination of losing both Adalius Thomas to free agency and Trevor Pryce to injury has cost this team 20+ sacks from last year. It's difficult to make these losses up while your remaining pass rush threats are now double teamed by the opponents. The linebacking corp, led by a older but still one of the best, Ray Lewis, have been largely ineffective and forced to blitz more often to help put pressure on the QB, often leaving the secondary open for pass completions. Regardless of the injuries to the Ravens starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, without pressure on the QB, any defensive secondary will be taken apart over time. Chris McAlister is back from his LCL strain, but at less than full speed. Samari Rolle has missed most of this season with an undisclosed illness that he has just revealed as epilepsy. Their replacements have not provided any relief, as they have been burned repeatedly despite their best efforts.

Truth be told, the game is won or lost in the trenches by these mostly unheralded warriors. They pay the harshest price during the season and once their careers are over. The Ravens success last year as well as their failures this season can be easily traced back to the differences between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Other than the coaching issues that have permeated throughout the critical losses in 2007, this might be the biggest reason for what has been a miserable disappointment.