No. 1 priority, 'protect Joe at all cost,' not getting done

Ravens quarterback is getting smacked around a lot

October 20, 2011|Mike Preston

Each time quarterback Joe Flacco tumbled to the ground Sunday, the Ravens chances of going deep into the post season went with him.

If the Ravens have a shot at a Super Bowl appearance, they have to elevate their pass protection and keep Flacco upright and healthy.

In five games, few teams have stopped the Ravens from running, and that will be a major staple the rest of the way. But for the passing game to improve, Flacco can't get smacked around like a piñata.

Houston sacked Flacco twice and hit him seven other times Sunday. He got hit so hard his offensive linemen were still feeling it Thursday.

"We don't want to do that, obviously," Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said of allowing Flacco to get hit. "We watched the film, too, and Joe did get hit too much. We just have to clean up some things on one-on-one blocks and also a few things on communication between us and the backs on protections.

"We were pissed off that Joe got hit that much, and we know that if Joe gets hit like that, he's going to be injured. He can't be getting hit like that every game. So that's priority No. 1 in our room, protect Joe at all cost, and we'll definitely be working our butts off to clear that up this week."

But it's more than just a communication problem. In some cases, it's experience. In others, the Ravens just got whipped physically or fooled by Texans stunts or delayed blitzes.

Former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams also has another theory. Because of West Coast and spread offenses that are becoming more prevalent in the NFL and college football, the art of one-on-one pass blocking is being lost.

Offensive linemen aren't taught to hold blocks as long because the routs and release points of the quarterback are quicker.

"Never thought about that, but that's a valid point," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Everything is fast, the ball comes out so fast, the quarterback is trying to get rid of it quickly, and maybe that's why some of them don't read concepts as well as they used too."

"Plus, you have the five- and seven-step stuff, and basically have to have dual read protection and it takes these guys a while to get accustomed to that because everything used to be so quick. So yes, that's an issue."

For the season, the Ravens have allowed 10 sacks, but Flacco has shown a case of butter fingers under duress. A lot of his fumbles are caused because he doesn't secure the ball and tuck it away with both hands.

John Unitas had a similar problem, and so did Vinny Testaverde. The best way to correct it is to protect the quarterback and not allow any pressure.

"It was a couple different things," Ravens center Matt Birk said of the pressure. "All of it is fixable on our part. I don't think any of us, to a man, are happy with how any one of us played or how we played as a group. But the good news is we won. It's nice to win and not play well rather than lose and play well. But we sort of know up front that we're going to use this week to get a lot better and raise our level of play."

It will be interesting to see how the Ravens make corrections. Because of the new collective bargaining agreement, there is a limit on physical contact during the week. When Williams first played here in the mid 1990s, there was a period every day where offensive linemen and defensive linemen worked individually on pass protection and pass rush.

Now, contact is basically limited to one day per week.

The lockout and new CBA are part of the reasons the Ravens and other teams might be struggling in pass protection.

"We lost a lot of contact and that's major," Harbaugh said. "The offensive line and secondary play are the two groups that require the most cohesiveness, and you're seeing more mistakes, especially in protection issues."

Flacco is also getting hit more because the Ravens have opened up their offense. The Ravens are using more five-man protections now than in the three previous seasons working the running backs more into passing routes, Harbaugh said.

It's a maturation process they have talked about for years.

"We've put the backs in routes more, allowing Joe to get the ball out quicker," Harbaugh said. "With that happening, there is a risk of him getting hit more often. We're willing to do that because it creates big plays and takes them [defenses] out of some pressure because when you start motioning, you have to determine if you are going to have Ray Rice covered or not."

Houston ran a lot of delayed blitzes that hurt the Ravens. It's a good strategy against a team that has shuffled offensive linemen this season. Right tackle Michael Oher seems to be the most confused by the tactic. He appears a step slow, possibly the result of moving from the left side in preseason.

But it's not just Oher. Left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie might need another week or two to get into top shape, and left guard Andre Gurode, who played poorly Sunday, is a much better center than guard.

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