The Baltimore Ravens let the Cleveland Browns hang around long enough in Week 2 to make it a competitive football game, yet even in a 14-6 win over the Browns, one concern looms going forward for the Ravens: the offensive line.
It’s not the amount of sacks given up. It’s not the dismal rushing performances for two consecutive weeks. It’s not even about the stout defenses Baltimore has faced vs. the Browns and the Denver Broncos in Week 1. It seems as if the communication of the blocking schemes up front have hurt this unit more than their lack of physical capabilities.
The Ravens have lost several key members on the offensive line. New Orleans Saints guard Ben Grubbs and retired center Matt Birk are two that come to mind when watching the front five’s struggles. Obviously, the Ravens can’t control what happened to Birk, but Grubbs went to New Orleans for a similar asking price that the Ravens offered him.
That being said, Grubbs or Birk wouldn’t make this unit exponentially better, but Birk’s loss feels more impactful than Grubbs’. Yes, Kelechi Osemele has had back-to-back underwhelming performances at the left guard spot for the Ravens, but I attribute that to the inexperience and inability to get the job done at the center position with Gino Gradkowski.
Keep in mind that this is virtually the same offensive line group that paved the way for Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense en route to their Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Subtracting Birk and adding Gradkowski has hurt this unit. While right guard Marshal Yanda hasn’t really dropped off, it is almost clear as day that Osemele relied heavily on Birk for his blocking schemes and techniques.
With Gradkowski now in that spot, Osemele isn’t the same marauder that he was with the former Pro Bowl center, and that makes every guy on the offensive line’s job that much more difficult.
Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher have been bright spots in addition to Yanda. While they haven’t been great, especially against speed rushers like Browns defensive end Barkevious Mingo, they have fared pretty well in the protection game. The ground game is a completely different story.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has to be disappointed with not only his running backs, but the O-line as well. In two games, Ravens runners have carried the ball 57 times for just 157 yards and two scores. If you didn’t do the math in your head, they’re averaging 2.7 yards a pop. Coaches across the NFL expect at least 4.0.
For a team that prides itself on playing good defense and running the football throughout their organization’s history, the Ravens haven’t ran the ball effectively in their first two regular-season contests and have only played quality defense against the Browns. That must change if the Ravens look to maintain the physical identity that has led them to two Super Bowl titles in franchise history.