Improved O-Line Play Keeps Flacco Upright

The offensive line has given up just two sacks in the last three games.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Monday, November 28th, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing, Week 12 vs 49ers

Joe Flacco took his lumps in the early part of the season.

In recent games, however, the protection from the offensive line has been markedly improved and Flacco has enjoyed plenty of time to throw in the pocket.

“As long as you protect that guy, he’s going to make plays,” right tackle Michael Oher said.

Flacco has been sacked 21 times this season, but 19 of those came in the first eight games of the season. In the last three weeks, Flacco has been sacked just twice, including none in Thursday’s win over the 49ers.

The improved play of the line coincides with the return of left guard Ben Grubbs, who missed six games with a toe injury following the Ravens’ Week 1 victory over Pittsburgh.

He returned in the Week 9 rematch with the Steelers, and since then the offensive line has been stellar.

In the five games that Grubbs has played this season, the Ravens have allowed six sacks. In the six games without him, they gave up 15.

“We’re starting to get a good feel for each other,” left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “Ben’s been back for [four] games now, so the communication is getting better between me and him.”

Grubbs has been a Pro Bowl alternate the past two seasons, so having him go down with an injury was a key loss. It also created a challenge because it forced the Ravens to shuffle the offensive line, which was already going through some changes.

Baltimore signed McKinnie in the offseason to play left tackle, which shifted Oher to right tackle. McKinnie had to adjust to a new team and Oher had to get comfortable in a new position.

Then Grubbs went down, and the Ravens used Mark LeVoir and Andre Gurode in his place. Gurode, a five-time center for the Dallas Cowboys, had never played left guard before in his career, but he was asked to shore up the line until Grubbs got healthy.

Grubbs downplayed the effect his absence had.

“I don’t think we really missed a beat when [Gurode] stepped in there,” Grubbs said. “He set this thing up, so we can be in the position that we’re in now. When I came back, I knew how [McKinnie] played, I knew how [canter Matt Birk] played, so I can continue to keep the train moving.”

In the four games since Grubbs returned, Flacco has completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown five touchdowns compared to two interceptions.

“That means a lot to be able to keep Joe off the ground,” McKinnie said. “That gives him the ability to make some plays down the field.”

McKinnie, who was signed to a two-year deal in the offseason, has fit in nicely at left tackle, and Oher has adjusted well to playing the right side. Oher leads all AFC tackles in Pro Bowl voting. Birk, a six-time Pro Bowler, is having another great season at center.

With the line meshing late in the season, that could bode well for the Ravens in December, where the AFC North title often comes down to the team that can limit the turnovers and pound the ball on the ground.

“We’re getting better every week,” Oher said. “We’re executing on technique and fundamentals and knowing what you have to do.”

Tags: , , , , ,