Ravens don't have good enough tackles to rely on passing game

With Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher struggling, Ravens must run the ball

October 25, 2011|Mike Preston

The Ravens put a lot of time and effort into upgrading their passing game during the offseason by changing personnel and scheme, but one upgrade they didn't make continues to hurt them.

The Ravens haven't improved their play at offensive tackle, and until they do, they'll struggle passing the football. In fact, the Ravens are where they were in head coach John Harbaugh's rookie year, when they lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

Back then, the Ravens didn't have a sophisticated passing game because their tackles couldn't block Pittsburgh's outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. The Ravens could only send out two or three receivers because they had to keep tight ends and running backs in to help their tackles block.

Well, the Ravens are back to square one.

According to Harbaugh, the Ravens were using more five-man protections this season compared to a year ago, and last week the Houston Texans almost decapitated quarterback Joe Flacco. Then on Monday night, the Ravens went to safer protections for Flacco, and they couldn't get anyone open.

They are now at the crossroads.

The Ravens are going to have to be very selective as far as game planning with their passing game, but it might just be safer for them to run the ball, much like Jacksonville did with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

We're six games into the season and we've all been waiting for offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher to improve, but we aren't seeing signs of that happening. McKinnie looks slow and Oher has regressed from the past two seasons.

And if your tackles can't pass block, you can't run or throw. It's basic football. You can get away with average guards and centers because they get help inside, but that can't happen with tackles. If you help them with double teams, you take away from other areas of your offense.

That's a major reason why the Ravens passing game is in trouble.

The Ravens thought they had become younger and faster in 2011 by cutting veteran receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap shortly before training camp opened. They thought they had two new deep vertical threats in veteran receiver Lee Evans and rookie Torrey Smith.

But if you don't have time to throw or have enough receivers in routes, you become vanilla. Flacco is a good quarterback, but nothing exceptional. He isn't shifty enough to constantly make plays with his legs, and doesn't have the arm strength and savvy to carry an offense.

For Flacco to get the Ravens to where they want to be, he has to be surrounded by better-than-average talent, and the Ravens don't have that at the tackle positions. Speed rushers are going around McKinnie, and Oher is getting beat by both speed and power rushers.

"It's just basically lack of execution," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh after his team's loss to Jacksonville. "We had some missed assignments. We had some missed blocks. They outplayed us one on one. We talk about beating your man, but they beat their man a heck of a lot more then we beat our man. "

The Ravens might have to become more run oriented like Jacksonville. The Jaguars ran running back Maurice Jones-Drew 30 times for 105 yards to hide some of their offensive line deficiencies, and the inexperience of their quarterback.

Sound familiar, Ravens?

That idea, though, is tough for the powers to be at The Castle to accept. They want balance. That's all they ever talk about is balance, balance, balance.

But more and more players are starting to show that they favor running the football.

"On offense, they kept it really simple," said Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs of Jacksonville. "I think [Maurice] Jones-Drew had 30 carries, but it baffles me that Ray Rice only had six carries."

Me too.

Actually, Rice had eight carries for 28 yards, and only touched the ball five times as a receiver. The Ravens might want to take another hard look at their offensive line. McKinnie is built like a tractor trailer, and it's easier to drive straight ahead as far as run blocking then to back up in pass protection.

Oher is a mauler. There is not a finesse bone in his or right guard Marshal Yanda's body. This is a group that loves to run block, and that's their forte.

Ideally, every team wants the perfect run versus pass ratio. But the way this team is shaping up, that's not going to happen for the Ravens. They'll be able to put up big passing numbers against some of the NFL's worst defenses, but if they can bring heat on the outside, the Ravens will struggle.

You can have the speed and the most sophisticated system in the world, but if your two offensive tackles can't handle the pressure from the outside, then it's not going to work.

The Ravens found that out three years ago, and history is repeating itself.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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