Offensive line could sack a team record

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

December 12, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Reporter

In a season replete with marked improvement in several offensive departments for the Ravens, the offensive line is close to capping a record-setting display.

Battered by questions during the preseason about its effectiveness, the offensive line has not surrendered a sack in three consecutive games - including Sunday's 20-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs - and four times in the past six games.

With Ravens quarterbacks Steve McNair and Kyle Boller getting taken down just 16 times thus far, the offense is on pace to shatter the franchise record for fewest sacks in a season. At this rate, the unit would finish with 20 sacks allowed, smashing the record of 35 in 2004.

"They are getting closer," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said of his unit's improvement. "They're working together. But you're only as good as your last game, which was great, but we've got a challenge this week [against the Cleveland Browns]."

While Foerster declined to expand on the reasons for the unit's success, several of the offensive linemen credited the coach with making pass protection a priority.

"We do a lot of drills on it, and we keep working on it," right guard Keydrick Vincent said. "We always did it, but he's really emphasized it, and he stays on us a lot. So we have to be on our toes."

Cohesion is generally a key ingredient for an offensive line, but the Ravens' unit has been forced to make adjustments this season. A season-ending triceps injury to right guard Edwin Mulitalo on Oct. 1 paved the way for Jason Brown, a fourth-round selection in the 2005 draft. A strained groin that sidelined Vincent for three straight games gave rookie Chris Chester valuable playing time.

But the rotation has had little effect. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden continues to be a model of consistency, right tackle Tony Pashos is coming into his own, and center Mike Flynn has been hailed for making the right calls.

And the Ravens' three-game streak hasn't been against cream puffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers were tied for fourth in the league in sacks before this past weekend's games, and the Chiefs were ranked 14th in total defense.

Brown said the offensive line has adjusted to the different styles of play of its opponents.

"It switches up from week to week, but we don't cater to them," he said. "There's a lot of things that we do that might seem unorthodox, but our offensive line is smart enough to pick up those complex schemes week in and week out. We've had some pretty good chemistry, and hopefully, we can just keep it up."

McNair, for one, is grateful for the offensive line's performances. "Those guys are working hard, and they're doing a great job," he said.

Thursday games unsafe?

After losing return specialist B.J. Sams and fullback Justin Green to season-ending injuries in a 13-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 30, the Ravens escaped Sunday's win relatively unscathed.

That prompted Brian Billick to again question whether the league should continue Thursday night games.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again, ... this league has to seriously look at putting teams in a short week on a consistent basis in the months of November and December. That is a safety issue involved, in my opinion."

Homework for Ross

Rookie returner Cory Ross pledged to return to the classroom and work on fielding punts.

Ross, who saw his first action of the season after Sams was placed on injured reserve with a fractured right ankle, fielded two punts without signaling for a fair catch and fumbled another that he recovered.

"I was under the ball, but I just didn't keep it there and watch it all the way in," Ross said. "So this week, I'm going to make sure that I practice on watching the ball all the way in, and I'll be fine."

Billick wasn't critical of Ross' showing. "It was very windy there. ... For a guy who was a first-time punt returner, that's kind of a daunting task. For his first time out, he did very, very well."

Et cetera

Billick said running back Musa Smith's neck injury likely will keep him out Sunday. ... Although he could not challenge the whistle that ruled Ed Reed down at the Ravens' 6-yard line in the second quarter, Billick disagreed with the ruling. "I thought he never touched the ground because I thought he was on top of [Chiefs wide receiver Samie Parker]. I don't think his knee ever hit." ... Asked what he thought about passing former Colts coach Don Shula for the most wins by the coach of a Baltimore football franchise, Billick, who has 72 regular-season victories to Shula's 71, joked, "Do I get anything for that?"

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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