After following the Baltimore Ravens for yet another season, I was able to make quite a few observations about this 2013 squad. Over the duration of this long (painful) season, one thing I noticed more than anything else was honestly quite simple: The offense was putrid.
You may be thinking, "Gee, that's a bit harsh, isn't it?" No, it's not. The offense was awful-to-mediocre in every aspect. After finishing the 2013 campaign 29th in total offense, 18th in passing yards, 30th in rushing yards, and 25th in points-per-game, calling the offense "putrid" is a compliment.
A basic understanding of football will allow you to infer that the most important part of any offense is the offensive line. Not only does the offensive line account for the majority of offensive players on the field at any given the time but the success (or failure) of any offense in football almost entirely hinges on how well the offensive line performs.
So how did the Ravens' offensive line fare in 2013? About as well as a cheeseburger around Rex Ryan. But Zach, that's the second time you've made that joke in two days. I choose to express my opposition of the Jets' decision to retain "Sexy Rexy" (or as I like to call him, Sex(XXL)y Rexy) as their Head Coach through fat jokes. Plus, it's my article. Deal with it.
Where was I? Oh right, the offensive line. In 2013 the Ravens' offensive line allowed Joe Flacco to be sacked 48 times, ranking second in the league only to Ryan Tannehill who was sacked 58 times! (Did that poor guy even have an offensive line?) Also worth noting, the Ravens ranked last in the league in yards per rushing attempt in 2013 with an average of 3.1 yards (No, seriously. That actually happened).
If you are like me, the first question you are asking yourself right now is, "What the hell could have caused the offensive line to perform that poorly?"
Well I have a hunch. A couple hunches, actually.
The first of these hunches has to do with the new zone blocking scheme introduced by Juan Castillo prior to the season where the offensive line's goal is not to open a hole but rather to create movement on the defensive line. Why would any team want to do that, you ask? Well according to Wikipedia:
One of the simplest reasons many teams have incorporated zone blocking in their offenses is because zone blocking rules do not change based on the defensive front. In a "man block" system, blockers are paired with defenders according to certain rules to create a running lane. If the defensive front changes, or if the defense stunts or blitzes, the blocking rules may change. This requires learning multiple rules for the same play. Zone blocking uses very consistent rules that do not change according to the defensive front.
Now I don't know too much about zone blocking other than it results in a lot of defensive linemen being double-teamed at the point of attack which uh... I don't know...hmm....frees up other defensive lineman to um.... GET IN THE BACKFIELD?! This could most obviously be seen with running plays where Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce were stopped almost immediately, resulting in a loss of yardage or gain of just one or two yards. A common occurrence, to say the least.
My other hunch is that the offensive line was simply too ravaged to perform in a way that even remotely resembled a line that had any business being in the NFL.
Prior to the commencement of the 2013 regular season the Ravens suffered a huge loss with the retirement of Matt Birk, who was a stalwart for the offensive line year after year, leaving the center responsibilities to A.Q. Shipley and Gino Gradkowski. Who? Exactly.
Then, a few weeks into the season, starting guard Kelechi Osemele was sidelined with a season-ending back injury which resulted in both of your "who?"s being named starters. Combine those two losses with the horrendous play of Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie (who was later replaced by Eugene Monroe) and you have one of the worst offensive lines in football. Period.
In retrospect, it was probably a combination of both of these factors. Whenever you take a bunch of young, new guys and teach them a blocking scheme that they probably aren't used to, you are just asking for a mess. And that's just what the Baltimore Ravens got in 2013.
Regardless of the cause, the Ravens offensive line was just that this season: Offensive.