So many people are shaking their collective heads in frustration, disbelief and anger over why the Baltimore Ravens used their first round pick, and traded to move up, no less, to select offensive tackle Michael Oher, rather than the big name wide receiver that appeared to be their biggest need. Even ESPN's Mel Kiper, who also thought we needed a wideout, thought we were trading up to select CB Vontae Davis, as he said that as good as Oher is, he takes plays off and can be beat. However, regardless of how little stock I personally put in grading drafts, Kiper gave the Ravens a "B" for their draft efforts, but mostly due to his opinions of our later round picks, such as second round DE Paul Kruger, 3rd round CB LaDarius Webb and fifth round LB Jason Phillips.
However, we all hold Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome in such high esteem that we are waiting to see how this pick pans out and then can all go back to the naysayers and say that yeah, we were always on this bandwagon of Ozzie's. So what was behind Newsome's thought process? If I may go into the miniaturization machine, I will take a trip deep inside the "Wizard of Oz's" medula oblongata and show you the "truth."
In the 2008 regular season, Ravens QB Joe Flacco was sacked 32 times, with 14 of them coming in three games, the first Pittsburgh game (5), Indy (4) & Dallas (5). That left 18 sacks in the remaining 13 games, not a bad total for those games. In the postseason, Flacco was not sacked at all in the Miami and Tennessee games, but was sacked three times in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh.
Overall, Flacco was sacked ten times by the Steelers defense in the three games we played them. The Ravens rushed for 267 yards in those three games, for a measely 3.14 yards/carry. Those sacks were not coverage sacks, so you can't blame the receivers for not getting open. No, those sacks were based on missed blocking assignments, the collapsing pocket and people just plain getting beaten. Another year of experience for Grubbs and Gaither will make a huge difference. Getting Yanda back at RG and having the veteran presence of Birk at center are both big upgrades (sorry, Chris Chester and Jason Brown). Having Wilie Anderson and shortly thereafter Michael Oher at RT over the previous combo of Anderson and Adam Terry is another large step as well.
If the Ravens cut those sacks in half against Pittsburgh due to the upgraded o-line and increase their yards per carry to 4.0, that should translate to a win in 2009 and might have made the difference in all three close contests this past year. However, Ozzie is not harping on the past, he is using that experience to build for the future. That is what he did with his great football mind by selecting Michael Oher to make the difference against the Steelers, not the rest of the league. The Ravens were already good enough to beat the rest of the league, just not Pittsburgh. Now we will be in 2009.
Flacco's passing stats were acceptable for a rookie QB, and many might even say they were good. But a TD-INT total of 14-12 is only average, as was his QB rating of 80.3. At the same time, despite the wins at Miami and Tennessee, his TD-INT totals in the playoffs was 1-3, with a 50.8 rating.
You see, looking at the season as a whole, you can say that he was pretty well prtected and threw the ball well, and maybe just needed that one big play receiver to put us over the top. You could even be right, as who knows what types of coverage that receiver might have dictated to our opponents' defenses, as opposed to stacking the box, blitzing on every play and challenging us to beat them through the air.
However, as we all know it starts and ends within the trenches. Defensively, we don't even have to go there, as we usually won that battle and the few times we didn't we lost those games. Our left side of the offensive line is set for years with Grubbs and Gaither. The center position was filled by a great veteran All Pro and we wil address that position's future at a later date. The right side of the line is in a state of flux. RG Marshall Yanda was lost for most of last year and hopefully will be fine, as he is a solid component there. His replacement, Chris Chester, played well although he is best suited as a versatile fill in at guard and center and needs to be available to fill in when and where needed and not stuck in one position all season. Willie anderson had a good comeback but we all know his age and the future. Adam Terry has pretty much proved that wherever he plays, he will be the weak link on the line. that is where Michael Oher comes in. His education begins behind Willie Anderson, and we should expect his learning curve to be great and quick. With the veteran Birk calling the offensive line blocking signals, he will be flanked by one of the youngest, most physical and best offensive lines in the NFL in 2009 and beyond. What was a weakness of this team goinginto 2008 will be an absolute strength going into 2009.
Now foir the sharpness of Ozzie's cerebellum. Oher wasn't selected for the purposes of beating the Browns and Bengals of the Ravens schedule. He was picked for the postseason, and specifically to beat the Steelers.