Offensive linemen shrug off criticism
Lapses in Week 1 win ‘can all be fixed,’ Stanley says
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.”