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The Ravens Offensive Line is Championship Caliber

Championship teams win up front

NFL: DEC 29 Steelers at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Undoubtedly, the Ravens offensive line has been dominant throughout 2019. That statement isn’t a revelation.

The unit has been the infantry paving the way for an offense that stands alone in NFL history. The Ravens set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season, are the only team to average 200 yards passing and rushing per game, are fourth all time in points per drive and set the mark for highest time of possession per drive in NFL history.

The Ravens led the NFL in both yards per carry (5.5) and rushing attempts (596) by a wide margin. The margin between the Ravens and next closest team was 98 rushing attempts (49ers). The same margin distanced the 49ers and Rams, who ranked 18th in rushing attempts (401).

The Ravens led the NFL in yards per carry by 0.5 yards. The team who ranked second was the Tennessee Titans. 0.5 yards was the same margin between the Titans and Colts, who ranked 12th in yards per carry.

The Ravens made the second best team in the NFL look paltry in both regards.

In other words, the Ravens ran the ball with the highest volume and the greatest efficiency.

The Ravens were the first team since the 2006 Atlanta Falcons to average 5.5 yards per rushing attempt. Lamar Jackson (first), Gus Edwards (third) and Mark Ingram (eighth) were the first trio of qualifying teammates to do so in NFL history.

The Ravens led the league in rushing first downs. . . by 37. The Ravens ran for. . . (pause for dramatic effect. . .) 2,048 yards before contact. That is more than 24 NFL teams ran for in total. Without breaking one tackle nor gaining a single yard before contact, the Ravens out-rushed 24 NFL teams.

All of these accomplishments indicate an extremely strong offensive line. The Ravens offensive line also has the second highest ‘Pass Blocking Win Rate’ in the league, per ESPN. That statistic measures whether a pass rusher is able to defeat their block in 2.5 seconds or less, which is around the average time it takes for a passer to get the ball out.

Lamar Jackson has certainly had an instrumental impact upon these factors, which caused me to put a tad of an asterisk around the offensive line’s accomplishments. According to Next Gen Stats, opposing pass rushers take .94 seconds to cross the line of scrimmage when defending the Ravens, which is by far the slowest time in the league. Jackson’s vision and speed also obviously contributed to the Ravens success.

This caused me to question exactly how good this offensive line really was. How much impact did Jackson have upon the lines success? What if there were a less dynamic player behind center?

That brings us to Week 17, where the Ravens faced one of, if not the most dangerous defensive fronts in the NFL. They were without their future gold jacket right guard and the best left tackle in football. No Lamar Jackson, no Mark Andrews, no Mark Ingram, no problem. The Ravens offensive line whipped the Steelers rear ends for four quarters.

This performance came against a Pittsburgh team that had a ‘win or go home’ situation. The depth, preparation, focus and coaching were all highlighted emphatically.

The Ravens ran iso, lead, zone read, and inside/outside zone among other concepts. Their second string offensive line mauled the likes of T.J. Watt and company.

The Ravens ask a lot of their offensive lineman, particularly in the run game. They’re asked to run power and zone concepts with equal prowess, pull from every position and work simpatico with the most dynamic athlete in the NFL, Lamar Jackson.

While Jackson doesn’t break the line of scrimmage quite as often as the mainstream media would portray (Jackson was fifth in the NFL in scrambles, 10 scrambles behind league leader Gardner Minshew), he does extend plays quite often. This requires a great deal of discipline from blockers.

In order to allow Lamar to make plays without drawing yellow laundry, blockers must:

  1. Allow their defender to disengage when they change direction (it means Jackson has broken the pocket.)
  2. Use elbows and shoulders instead of grabbing with hands once the play has broken down.
  3. Keep their head on a swivel to find work.
  4. Play through the whistle to help Jackson turn improvisation into domination.

The Ravens offensive lineman exhibited nearly perfect discipline throughout 2019. Their accepted penalties individually are as follows:

LT Ronnie Stanley- Four total penalties, two holding, one false start, one “other.”

LG Bradley Bozeman- Four total penalties (all in one game), three false starts, one “other.”

C Matt Skura- Two total penalties, two “other.”

C Patrick Mekari- One total penalty- one false start.

RG Marshal Yanda- Zero penalties.

RT Orlando Brown- Two total penalties, one hold, one “other.”

Seven individual players had equal to or greater than the amount of penalties that the Ravens offensive line committed.

The Ravens starting offensive lineman combined to draw only 13 penalties this season. Orlando Brown, Ronnie Stanley and Matt Skura combined for 14 in 2018 alone.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris have molded a relatively young group into a disciplined and synchronized team.

As pass protectors, the Ravens have the benefit of having three one on one aficionados in Yanda, Stanley and Brown Jr. These three can be left to work alone, which allows Bradley Bozeman and Patrick Mekari to work in tandem to double team. Mekari will certainly lend a hand to Yanda and pick up delayed blitzes as well, but more often than not Mekari and Bozeman join forces to keep the interior of the pocket at the line of scrimmage.

This also creates defined running and throwing lanes for Lamar Jackson, who has always possessed a fine tuned ability to sense where pressure will come from. Sacks are more often a result of Jackson’s indecision, rather than penetration.

According to PFF, no Ravens offensive lineman has allowed more than four sacks or three quarterback hits this season, while Lamar Jackson has been responsible for nine. Marshal Yanda has only allowed one sack, while Ronnie Stanley and Patrick Mekari are yet to allow Jackson to be taken down.

Mekari has been a true blessing for the Ravens, who rostered the UDFA out of Cal for their opening day lineup. Mekari was pass pro specialist for Cal, rating in PFF’s top 10 offensive tackles in the Pac-12 in 2018.

The Ravens saw Mekari as someone who could move inside to play guard or center with a great anchor, good feet and certain athleticism. Mekari has improved vastly as a run blocker since summer practices, particularly with his spacing and pacing out of the blocks. He always possessed a tackle’s anchor ability, and that has been evident as Mekari’s pass blocking proficiency has been on display.

Even swingman James Hurst has shined at times. Hurst has allowed one sack, one hit, four pressures and two hurries across 74 pass blocking snaps, which is a vast improvement considering his performance in previous seasons. This shows how imperative coaching and scheme are.

Roman and D’Alessandris have aligned this unit with the general ideology that I believe has contributed to the Ravens massive success in 2019. They play to players strengths and hide their weaknesses. A perfect example is Bradley Bozeman.

Bozeman lacks the raw strength to drive defenders off the ball as a run blocker consistently. However, Bozeman moves well in space, doesn’t get ahead of himself, has great hands and shows a strong ability to split a defender in half to move them in space.

In other words, strength and push are a weakness, mobility and technique are a strength. Many coaches are rigid and demand that players fit their system. Why ask a painter to sculpt? The Ravens coaching staff pulls Bradley Bozeman frequently. This highlights his mobility, pace and technique, while masking his lack of drive off the ball.

Catering to one’s strengths and aiding their weak points is how any good teacher approaches a student. Whether its an algebra teacher, ballet choreographer or offensive line coach, this should be an overarching approach.

The Ravens are benefited by having Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda, two of the unquestioned top five at their respective positions. This allows Bozeman, Mekari and Brown Jr. much more room for error, as well as the ability to put Nick Boyle and company to their side or behind them as reinforcements, although Brown Jr. certainly holds his own.

The proof is in the pudding and the Ravens have set franchise and league marks week after week. Lamar Jackson won a Heisman Trophy behind a Louisville line that lacked a single NFL caliber talent. Giving him a future Hall of Famer, the best left tackle in football, a mammoth bookend and two young technicians has been the foundation upon which an MVP was built.

Stanley, Bozeman, Mekari, Yanda and Brown Jr. have what it takes to punch the Ravens ticket to Miami. Add in Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard, who line up as ‘dual-Y’ tight off tackle, which gives the Ravens effectively seven bullies to drive opposing teams off the ball.

The list of opponents who can attest to that include Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Ed Oliver, Geno Atkins, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, Myles Garrett, DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, Frank Clark and Jedeveon Clowney who combined for three sacks against the Ravens.

This Ravens front five is disciplined, versatile, tough and confident. In 2012 the Ravens struggled to find the best combination across their offensive line. Players like Ramon Harewood, Bobbie Williams and Jah Reid found their way into the lineup. Just before the postseason the Ravens settled on Bryant Mckinnie, Kelechi Osemele, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher from left to right. Those five linemen kept Joe Flacco clean for four games and paved the way for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce en route to a Lombardi Trophy.

Can this line take the Ravens to the big game?