Doesn't take a hawk eye to see how mashed up offensive line is

November 25, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

The Ravens' offensive line is starting to resemble a M*A*S*H unit.

Every week, it seems to wheel in new bodies and dump old ones. The only problem is that it's the same bodies being recycled over and over again.

As the Ravens head into the final five games of the 2008 regular season, one of the major questions is whether the offensive line can continue to play at a high level.

The group, considering all the injuries, actually turned in a good overall effort against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, and the Ravens won't have much problem pushing around the Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday, either.

But it will get tougher against the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars. In a normal situation, the Ravens probably could play with any of those teams.

But there is nothing normal about the Ravens' injury situation. Left tackle Jared Gaither, who was supposed to miss the Philadelphia game with a shoulder injury, had to play three quarters after Adam Terry, who has already struggled with knee and ankle injuries this season, suffered a concussion.

Gaither played with one healthy arm for the second straight week. Willie Anderson is playing right tackle with a badly sprained ankle. The Ravens have already put starting right guard Marshal Yanda on injured reserve with a severe knee injury, and tackle David Hale has been taking some repetitions at guard.

The offensive line has become a who's who?

Worse yet, it is coming at the wrong time. It's getting cold, and this is the time of year when most teams are strengthening their running games. The good teams can run the ball and stop the run.

The Ravens have that philosophy in place, and they are good at closing out games in the fourth quarter by pounding the ball, just like those teams coached by Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

But you can't close out games if your best offensive linemen are missing or sitting on the bench because of injuries. You also can't win if your quarterback is getting pounded.

We saw that Sunday. The Eagles love to blitz, and the Ravens have been fairly successful at picking up pressure this season. But it's hard when you have new faces in the lineup every week and the timing is off.

Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco took a beating from the Eagles. He was sacked three times and knocked around many others. He was hit so hard that, at one point while he stood on the sideline, you could see the outline of his inside helmet pad on his forehead.

Flacco has struggled the past two weeks. Defenses from the Eagles and New York Giants are a lot faster than the ones he has seen from the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati. Washington will have a fast defense, and so will Dallas and Jacksonville.

The Ravens have pretty much stayed with their run-oriented philosophy. Each week, it seems one of their three running backs - Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain or Ray Rice - emerges to take over the pace of a game. They will be fresh enough to prevail down the stretch.

The same can't be said for the offensive line. Unless Gaither sits out a game, his shoulder likely won't heal until the offseason. Anderson is in his 13th season and struggled with injuries during the later part of his career in Cincinnati.

Terry is in the same class as Gaither. High-ankle sprains don't heal unless you take time off, and there is none available. The bye the Ravens had to give up to play the Houston Texans on Nov. 9 would have come in handy.

But that's history. The Ravens are young in the middle with guards Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester and center Jason Brown. In training camp, the entire offensive line was soft and looked in disarray because the group was learning a new offense under a new coach with a rookie quarterback.

But players such as Grubbs, Brown and Yanda have displayed a mental toughness from the first day they became Ravens. That attitude has rubbed off, and the Ravens have become a smash-mouth team.

Except for a few occasions, they have dominated defensive lines. But the question is no longer can they dominate, but how long will they do so with all the injuries?

This group has already passed one major test. Can it pass another?

Listen to Mike Preston every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

RAVENS (7-4) @BENGALS (1-9-1)

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Line: Ravens by 7

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