Offensive line needs to regain its health soon
As the Ravens were beating the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, their chances for a strong finish in 2016 were starting to diminish with each offensive lineman who headed to the bench with an injury.
On one play, it was rookie left guard Alex Lewis. On another, it was center Jeremy Zuttah. On another, it was left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Fortunately, the Ravens had enough to finish that game, but what about the next one Sunday in Dallas?
Will this group be healthy and effective enough to finish the year?
The Ravens appear to be in trouble. Their best offensive lineman, right guard Marshal Yanda, has missed three of the past four games with a shoulder injury, and even if he returns he won’t be 100 percent the rest of the season. Coach John Harbaugh was mum about his status Monday.
Harbaugh did say that Lewis left Thursday’s game with a high-ankle sprain, which “is usually a six-week injury.”
There are numerous reasons why the Ravens (5-4) have struggled this season, but the two major ones are the poor play of
quarterback Joe Flacco and the offensive line. They go hand in hand.
Flacco has thrown for 2,374 yards this season, but his quarterback rating of 78.3 puts him in the same class with Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Osweiler. The Ravens have allowed 20 sacks, but Flacco has been hit or hurried on several occasions in the worst beating of a Baltimore quarterback since Kyle Boller.
Flacco is to blame for some of his problems. His mechanics have been poor and he doesn’t help himself by not stepping up in the pocket or to the side to avoid pressure. Injuries have also forced the Ravens to shuffle their offensive line like a deck of cards.
A year ago this group wasn’t that good, but it hasn’t had much of a chance to establish a rhythm this season. The Ravens weren’t going to be dominant anyway, but now it’s about being respectable.
The Ravens are ranked 24th in the NFL in points (20.2 per game), 25th in yards (333 per game) and 28th in rushing with an average of 85.9. In three of their next seven games, the Ravens face respectable defenses in Dallas, Philadelphia and New England, and Cincinnati and Miami have strong defensive lines.
On defense, the Cowboys are ranked No. 12 in yards allowed (345.7 per game) and No. 8 in points (18.9). Dallas also has 19 sacks, tied for 17th most in the league.
On the flip side, you wonder how much better the Ravens can get on offense. They have good weapons in wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace and Flacco is tough to beat if he gets hot, but it’s hard to have a productive passing game if the running game isn’t working and Flacco is throwing from his back.
Ravens running backs Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) and Kenneth Dixon rushed for more than 100 yards combined against Cleveland on Thursday night, but that’s false hope. The Browns can’t beat anybody but themselves.
With Yanda out, the Ravens are missing one of the league’s best guards. Lewis’ injury takes away another guard.
Asked if Lewis will go on injured reserve, Harbaugh said, “There’s nothing imminent along those lines. We’re going to try to see where that goes in the next couple weeks. Hopefully we can get him back.” And Yanda’s status moving forward? “We’ll let you know as we go, see how he progresses,” Harbaugh said.
Zuttah has struggled the entire year, partly because of shoulder and neck ailments. Stanley has performed poorly in his past two starts, struggling with technique and slow feet. With seven games remaining, has he hit the proverbial wall that so many rookies do late in the season?
The Ravens’ most dependable offensive lineman has been right tackle Rick Wagner, but the anchor of the line shouldn’t be an average player.
A good offensive line can mask a lot of problems. It can hide its own sorry defense with a dominating running game and at the same time wear down the opposition. It can make an average bunch of skill players look better, and there is nothing more demoralizing in the sport than when an opponent has one of those 11-, 12-, or 13-play drives consisting of smash-mouth football.
Even in the pass-happy NFL, every team still wants to be able to run the ball.
With the Ravens, that’s not the major goal right now. They need to get healthy. They need to find a rhythm.
They need to do it quickly.