The Baltimore Ravens offensive line was considered the weakest position group on the roster entering training camp. And then center John Urschel retired the morning he was supposed to report to the training facility, rookie guard Nico Siragusa suffered a gruesome knee injury in practice that will sideline him all season, and promising second-year guard Alex Lewis was ruled out for the year due to shoulder surgery. Making matters worse, crucial left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been held out of practice all week with a mystery ailment.
The Ravens offense is a mess right now. Quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to see the practice field while he recovers from a back injury. Key receiver Breshad Perriman is dealing with another lingering lower body injury and elusive back Kenneth Dixon is done for the year because of a knee surgery. The offensive line is in a daily state of flux, with blockers forced to play out of position and basically zero quality depth. Developmental lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot all showed a concerning lack of quickness in the preseason opener. Thankfully, recent veteran signee Austin Howard has been cleared to practice and should bring stability to the right tackle position alongside All-Pro Marshal Yanda.
Fortunately for Baltimore, they share concerns about their offensive line with the vast majority of the league. There was a dearth of quality line play throughout the NFL last season, and the situation was not improved by one of the weakest rookie classes in memory. This scarcity of capable lineman is the reason slightly better than average blockers such as former Raven Ricky Wagner was offered a $47.5 million contract in free agency.
Looking at the Ravens regular season slate, the arch rival Steelers are the only scheduled opponent with proven commodities at every position on their line from left to right. The Titans and Packers each boast Pro Bowl caliber bookend tackles, but also questions on the interior. The Browns and Raiders are vulnerable at right tackle, and also dealing with injuries and holdouts, respectively. Chicago has a trio of elite interior blockers, but below average tackles.
If Laremy Tunsil can live up to his potential at left tackle, Miami will be strong on the outside and at center, yet still below average at both guard spots. The loss of Taylor Decker in Detroit, who is on the PUP list following shoulder surgery, is a huge blow to an already questionable unit. If Stanley’s injury is indeed a short term issue, the Ravens line is honestly better than the other five opponents remaining on their schedule - Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Houston and Indianapolis.
All in all, the Ravens should trot out an average at worst offensive line in comparison to their peers if Ryan Jensen continues to perform well at center and the Ravens are past their injuries. This bodes well for a team that possesses the defensive talent to win regular season wars of attrition. The lack of competent lineman has forced offensive coordinators to alter their schemes through a variety of measures designed to work around poor blocking. However, after the Ravens front office finally focused on upgrading the secondary, the defense is well equipped to shut down any offensive gameplan.
Judging by their unusual aggressiveness in the first preseason contest, head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are fully aware that they will need a dominant defense to compensate for their offense this season. No matter how the Ravens offensive line performs, the team’s impressive defensive front can ensure the team wins the overall battle for control of the line of scrimmage by consistently whipping the blockers they face, week in and week out. The quest to build a truly imposing defense continues tonight in Miami.