Ravens' offensive line takes straightforward approach

NFL Week 6

October 12, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS COACH BRIAN Billick's playbook, once consisting of thousands of plays, is now boiled down to three or four running plays. That's a total of six or eight if you count both sides of the offensive line.

Football has always been a simple game, and the Ravens have reduced it to its lowest form of run, run and run some more. With the NFL's biggest offensive line and the game's top running back, the Ravens have the No. 1 rushing attack.

So when the Ravens (2-2) play host Arizona (1-4) today at Sun Devil Stadium, this offensive game plan will be as vanilla as it comes as the Ravens try to pound the Cardinals.

"Our job is to dominate, physically, the person in front of us," said left guard Edwin Mulitalo. "My job is to overpower the other guy, whether it's finesse or raw physical ability. Every time we establish the run, that's a symbol of our domination over the guy in front of us."

The Ravens average 329 pounds on the offensive line, 7 pounds more than Oakland, which has the second-biggest group, and 11 more than Detroit at No. 3. But the Ravens' success isn't just about their ability to push people around or Jamal Lewis' ability to run through arm tacklers.

This group also has some athleticism, enough to allow it to seal off the back side and allow cutback lanes for Lewis. Big tackles such as Jonathan Ogden (340 pounds) and Orlando Brown (360) have enough speed to get into the second level and cut off outside linebackers. Mulitalo is quick enough to reach the nose guard in front of center Mike Flynn or reach a linebacker before he can flow to either side in pursuit.

Many of Lewis' 611 yards rushing either come from plays initially designed to go left, or cutbacks to the left from plays designated to go right. The Ravens also often get a double-team block somewhere on the back side either from the center and guard, or tackle and tight end.

"This is different from college where you get guys on the line of scrimmage and you knock him off the ball," Flynn said. "In the pros, guys are big and fast. It's hard to push them a lot vertically, so you want to push them laterally. Guys who can get up the field, naturally, you're going to cut back on them."

"We were doing a lot of cutbacks in 2000," Flynn said. "We struggled a little bit with that last year. But we have emphasized it ever since minicamp. If you look at all good running teams, they seal the back-side end or linebackers. If you get that done in this league, you'll be pretty successful."

Lewis, at times, appears to be a light year away from the line of scrimmage, but it allows him a 4- to 5-yard head start and a full view of possible lanes opening. Once through the line of scrimmage, the 245-pound Lewis becomes a defensive back's worst nightmare.

It's even more hellish when the Ravens have Ogden leading him around left end. There have been times when he has taken out two or three defenders.

"He is a Pro Bowler, eventual Hall of Famer," Flynn said of Ogden. "Everything else speaks for itself."

That's true. The Ravens don't have a lot of imagination with their running game. It's a lot of smash mouth. According to both Flynn and Brown, the Ravens have about three or four basic running plays. The Ravens just run out of different formations, much like the Redskins did under Joe Gibbs when Washington had one of the game's better offensive lines.

"You're going to see the same thing from us every week," Brown said. "We're just going to knuckle up and come off the ball. The better man is going to win. We're not overly fast, but we're good at anticipating. Our line coach is always telling us to get where they're going to be, not where they were."

Said Flynn: "It seems like a lot of plays, but it's not. We're just trying to master three or four base plays. We'll throw in a draw or some kind of special pitch for the week or a nickel run, but we've squeezed everything down."

The Ravens don't need to add much more. This group has finally come together, and Billick is playing to its strength, which is run-blocking as opposed to its weakness of pass-blocking.

On the right side, the Ravens have two maulers in Brown and third-year guard Bennie Anderson. They aren't as effective as the left side, but they've also done a good job of sealing on the back side.

Brown brought the missing ingredient to this offensive line, a nastiness that hasn't been here since he played alongside right guard Jeff Blackshear under former coach Ted Marchibroda from 1996 through 1998.

Bothered by a knee injury he suffered in training camp, Brown made his first start two weeks ago against Kansas City. Coincidentally, he drew his first $5,000 fine from the league for a leg whip, but what else would you expect from Brown?

He has paid the fine, and also framed it.

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