Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ravens O-Line finding its groove

OWINGS MILLS -- Joe Flacco hardly had a hair out of place, let alone any collection of bumps and bruises following the Baltimore Ravens' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The quarterback was only sacked once while managing to throw a career-high three touchdown passes as he dropped back to throw a career-high 43 passes.

According to the official game book, Flacco was only hit one time. It wasn't by happenstance.

Two new starters made their regular-season debuts in Baltimore as center Matt Birk and rookie right offensive tackle Michael Oher. However, the timing and cohesiveness of the blocking was well above-average during a 38-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Well, the protection is where it starts," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during his weekly Monday press conference. "That's why we've made some of the decisions we've made. We said from the first day that everything starts upfront on both sides of the ball.

"So, the priority is building an offensive line, the priority is building a defensive line and you kind of work back from there. But it sure starts in the core and the offensive line played really well."

The lone sack was allowed by left offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who was beaten on a speed rush by former first-round pick Tamba Hali.

Other than that, it was a pristine outing.

The Ravens racked up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense, grinding out 198 yards on the ground and controlled the clock for 39 minutes and 49 seconds.

"That's what we're trying to build here, a physical offense, a grind it out kind of offense" Oher said. "I think we're doing a great job. We've just got to keep on fighting.

"Our coach stays on us about a lot of things, playing fast. I wouldn't say the speed was that overwhelming."

Oher handled his assignments adeptly in his first NFL start.

At times, the mobile first-round draft pick manhandled the Chiefs' front seven. He played aggressively throughout the contest against a 3-4 alignment.

"He played really well, but there are a lot of things he can do better," Harbaugh said. "For a rookie coming out for the first time, facing that odd front, he did a nice job."

And Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl center with the Minnesota Vikings who signed with Baltimore during the offseason, did a nice job of making the line calls and controlling the Chiefs' interior defensive linemen.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this offense, a part of this team," Birk said. "The best thing I like about this offense is we work hard. We've got guys that want to work, want to be great."

Regardless of whether it was running backs Ray Rice (108 yards) and Willis McGahee (44 yards, one touchdown run) or fullback Le'Ron McClain (one touchdown run), there were large holes to run through.

In particular, the right side tandem of Oher and guard Chris Chester cleared some big pathways. Especially with their seal blocks on Rice's 22-yard run that set up McClain's one-yard touchdown plunge.

"The thing about the offensive line is, we have to block the same for all of them," Oher said. "Whoever is back there, it’s like a three-headed monster. They are some great backs. We just have to do the same thing, no matter what.”

When Flacco dropped back to pass on his game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Clayton, he had sufficient breathing room to let Clayton's post pattern develop and release the football despite the presence of a heavy blitz package.

"We kind of called the play for that," Flacco said. "What they did there, we expected them to do. Mark did a great job at the top of his route. The offensive line did a great job of protecting the gaps and giving me just enough time to get the ball off."

Photo by Sabina Moran

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