Of­fen­sive line­men shrug off crit­i­cism

Lapses in Week 1 win ‘can all be fixed,’ Stan­ley says

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

Any NFL of­fen­sive line­man — whether it’s a rookie such as Ron­nie Stan­ley or a 10-year veteran such as Mar­shal Yanda — will likely tell you that it’s best for play­ers at their po­si­tion to not have their names men­tioned at all. Of­fen­sive line­men be­come house­hold names to the av­er­age football fan for tak­ing penal­ties and miss­ing blocks that lead to their quar­ter­back’s get­ting hit. In other po­si­tions, go­ing un­no­ticed is not a good thing. For an of­fen­sive line­man, it usu­ally means a job well done. Yanda has been se­lected to the Pro Bowl in five con­sec­u­tive years and is widely re­garded as one of the best guards in the NFL. Yet, when he was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally called for two penal­ties in the Ravens’ 13-7 vic­tory over the Buf­falo Bills on Sun­day, some fans and re­porters won­dered what was wrong. Such is life for of­fen­sive line­men, who learn early in their ca­reers that the per­cep­tion doesn’t al­ways match re­al­ity.

“We un­der­stand that most peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what’s go­ing on out there and what we’re do­ing on ev­ery play,” said Stan­ley, the first-round draft pick who be­came the first rookie Week1 starter at left tackle in fran­chise his­tory. “We don’t re­ally let that af­fect us at all, and I know Mar­shal doesn’t al­low that to af­fect him at all.”

Even with the two penal­ties — half as many as he had all of last sea­son — Yanda Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 7

won his in­di­vid­ual matchups and graded out as one of the league’s most ef­fec­tive guards in Week 1, ac­cord­ing to the an­a­lyt­ics web­site Pro Football Fo­cus.

Yanda has been around far too long and had too much suc­cess to con­cern him­self with out­side eval­u­a­tions of how he played. He’s his own harsh­est critic, any­way. How­ever, he cer­tainly un­der­stands how penal­ties prompt a cer­tain per­cep­tion. Yanda watched as for­mer team­mate Michael Oher, who started ev­ery game in his five sea­sons with the Ravens and played his best football dur­ing the team’s Su­per Bowl run in 2012, was con­sis­tently ma­ligned for com­mit­ting penal­ties.

“You try not to get penal­ties but some­times they hap­pen,” Yanda said. “All you do is you work at it and you keep fight­ing. It’s a con­stant process of work­ing at it ev­ery day.”

The Ravens of­fen­sive line got back to work Wed­nes­day in prepa­ra­tion for Sun­day’s game against the Cleve­land Browns (0-1). The group’s ef­fort in Week 1 was un­even. In quar­ter­back Joe Flacco’s first reg­u­lar-sea­son game since he tore the ACL and MCLin his left knee last Novem­ber, he was sacked four times and hit nine times.

The Ravens’ run­ning game av­er­aged only 3 yards per carry and of­fen­sive line­men were called for three of the team’s six penal­ties. Af­ter the game, Ravens coach John Har­baugh re­ferred to some “ca­dence is­sues” that were at the root of the penal­ties, and a miscommunication be­tween Flacco and cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah that led to the game’s only turnover.

“I know we had a few pre-snap is­sues, but that was just first-game jit­ters or what­ever,” right tackle Rick Wag­ner said. “We’re look­ing for­ward to this next week. We shouldn’t have too many of those.”

In re­view­ing film, the Ravens found plenty to like about the play of their of­fen­sive line as well, and that in­cluded the de­buts of Stan­ley and left guard Alex Lewis, who be­came the first two rook­ies to start the open­ing game on the left side of any team’s of­fen­sive line since 1995.

“I think there’s a lot to im­prove on, but ob­vi­ously, we had re­ally good ef­fort, we played hard and we ex­e­cuted,” Stan­ley said. “There are things that can all be fixed.”

Har­baugh agreed ear­lier this week that his team needed to run the ball bet­ter. How­ever, he made clear that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for do­ing that goes beyond the of­fen­sive line­men. Run­ning backs need to hit the right holes and break tack­les. The coach­ing staff needs to pick the ap­pro­pri­ate run­ning plays against the given de­fen­sive fronts.

Against the Bills, the Ravens ran out­side One web­site graded Yanda as one of the NFL’s most ef­fec­tive guards in Week 1. a lot with sev­eral pitch plays and seemed to avoid run­ning be­tween the tack­les on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. But when it came down to ic­ing the game, the Ravens were able to run the fi­nal 41⁄ min­utes off the clock.

“That was def­i­nitely a tough de­fense to run against, but I feel like we did our job in that area,” Stan­ley said.

As for pass pro­tec­tion, sev­eral Ravens ac­knowl­edged that they had to do a bet­ter job of giv­ing Flacco more time. The NFL is a copy­cat league, and they know fu­ture op­po­nents will dis­sect how the Bills were able to ha­rass Flacco as much as they did, and in­cor­po­rate that into the game plan.

“We don’t ever want him to be touched,” Wag­ner said. “That’s on us up front. They got us a cou­ple of times on some good schemes and moves. That’s al­ways our goal. We’re go­ing to try and fix that this week.”

Of course, ev­ery sack isn’t al­ways on the of­fen­sive line, ei­ther. There are cov­er­age sacks when Flacco can’t find an open re­ceiver, so he holds on to the ball too long. Some­times, Flacco won’t get out of the pocket quickly enough. Some­times, teams out-scheme the Ravens and bring more rush­ers than the Ravens have block­ers.

But just about all the time, when a quar­ter­back hits the ground, a fin­ger is pointed to­ward an of­fen­sive line­man. Such is life at a po­si­tion where the per­cep­tion doesn’t al­ways meet re­al­ity.

“No mat­ter what, our job is to pro­tect the quar­ter­back. It’s our job to keep him clean as long as we can,” Yanda said. “We’re fight­ing our tail off to keep him clean. Ev­ery­body un­der­stands he’s com­ing back from a knee [in­jury], but hon­estly, that doesn’t change our ap­proach. That doesn’t mat­ter. What mat­ters is pro­tect­ing the quar­ter­back as long as we can. That’s our job, to open up lanes and pro­tect the quar­ter­back. That hasn’t changed since the start of football.”


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