Ravens battered offensive line focused on pass protection

Harbaugh emphasized protecting quarterback after last week's sacks

August 20, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Lining up at practice this week, the Ravens' Marshal Yanda looked to his left to see the backup center and turned to his right to spot the third-string offensive tackle.

If you try to give Yanda a congratulatory shake for staying healthy, the starting right guard will step back. His right hand is too beaten and bruised.

Still, heading into Saturday's preseason game at the Washington Redskins, the Ravens offensive linemen aren't thinking about their pain. Their priority is keeping the quarterbacks healthy.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the Ravens' preseason opener was allowing six sacks, which included two on starting quarterback Joe Flacco in the first quarter. For an offensive line that was ranked among the top five in the NFL, that unsatisfactory performance fueled this group in the final week of training camp.

"We don't want to give up any sacks," Yanda said. "We hold a high standard for not giving up sacks. The first thing on our list is we don't want anybody touching Joe or any of our quarterbacks. We're disappointed giving up six [sacks], and we've worked our butts off the last week to try to take care of that."

Last season, the Ravens gave up 36 sacks, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Flacco didn't miss a game, but he battled through a sprained ankle at midseason and a major bruise down his left leg late in the season.

In the preseason opener, Flacco was hit hard twice when Carolina defensive end Tyler Brayton (who isn't exactly Julius Peppers) crashed through the left side of the Ravens' offensive line.

"We've got a great quarterback and we've got to protect Joe," left guard Ben Grubbs said. "Anytime he gets hit, that comes back to the offensive line. We've got to take pride in what we do. We have to buckle down and get this done."

Without being asked about the offensive line, coach John Harbaugh made a point to express his disappointment about the pass protection after the preseason opener. Players said this was Harbaugh's major point of emphasis heading into their game against Washington.

The Ravens will be tested by Redskins pass rushers, Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter, who each totaled 11 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries last season. The starters could play almost the entire first half.

"They've got some first-rate pass rushers, so I'm looking forward to seeing how our guys hold up," Harbaugh said. "We've worked very hard at it, but we always do."

Continuity wasn't supposed to be a concern this season because this is the first time since 2004 that the Ravens returned all five starters on the offensive line.

Then, injuries hit this group hard in training camp. Three linemen (tackle Jared Gaither, center-guard David Hale and tackle Oniel Cousins) were carted off the field this summer, including two last week.

Gaither, the team's starting right tackle, is expected to miss at least another week with a small tear in his back and could be sidelined for the start of the regular season. Cousins, who replaced Gaither at right tackle, is scheduled to miss Saturday's preseason game with headaches. And Hale is out for this game with a bruised tailbone.

That likely means third-string tackle Tony Moll will get the start at Washington. Center Matt Birk, who missed practices this week with a neck injury, is considered probable.

Two other linemen, Stefan Rodgers and Daniel Sanders, are out with shoulder injuries. To patch up their second-team offensive line, the Ravens have been forced to move Bryan Mattison from guard to center and Joe Reitz from tackle to guard.

"You would like consistency, but you have to work with what you've got," Grubbs said. "You never know what we're going to have each day."

The Ravens typically keep it simple for offensive linemen in the preseason. They rarely scheme double teams because coaches want to see how the players block in one-on-one situations.

But that can be a problem in going against defenses these days. The Panthers blitzed the Ravens on the first two plays, which would never have happened a few years ago.

"In the old days, there used be a no-blitz rule," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Well, then they started firing coordinators in the preseason. It's like four regular-season games now in a lot of ways from a scheme standpoint. No one is hiding anything."

Cameron also pointed out that sacks can always be blamed on the offensive line. Other factors include the quarterback getting the ball out quickly, the wide receivers creating more separation and other players (namely tight ends and running backs) helping out with blocks.

"Some people think it's all about the offensive line blocking," Cameron said. "It's truly an 11-man proposition."

In a year where there are such high expectations for the offense, the Ravens can't afford constant breakdowns in pass protection. It doesn't matter that new wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth are running open downfield if Flacco is getting thrown to the ground.

"It won't be like that this year," Grubbs said. "We are confident in our pass protection."



The Ravens gave up 36 sacks last season, which was the fourth-fewest in team history:

Year ; Sacks allowed ; Yards lost

2006 ; 17 ; 100

2008; 33 ; 277

2004 ; 35 ; 247

2009 ; 36 ; 218

1997 ; 37 ; 227

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