Ravens reshuffled offensive line is still “a work in progress”
The Baltimore Ravens are nowhere near the same unstoppable juggernaut that tore through the NFL last year through the first 10 games of the 2020 season.
The biggest difference more than the up and down performances from reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and the rest of the skill players has been the health and consistency of the offensive line.
Overcoming the loss of future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda at right guard was perceived as the biggest challenge for the unit heading into the season but a little past its midway point, that is still an issue but unfortunately isn’t the only one.
In the last month, the team as a whole has been rocked by injuries but especially in the trenches on both sides of the ball but let’s focus on offense right now.
First Team All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was lost for the remainder of the season just two days after signing a massive contract extension with an ankle injury in the team’s 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In that same game, rookie Tyre Phillips who won the right guard spot in training camp suffered a high ankle sprain and is currently on injured reserve but could return at some point.
The two injuries forced the Ravens to reshuffle their offensive line on the fly in that game and three weeks later, it is still in flux according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Right tackle Orlando Brown is now protecting Jackson’s blindside at left tackle and has performed well in his return to the position he predominately played in college.
Veteran DJ Fluker had looked good as the other bookend tackle is the second half of the Steelers and Indianapolis games but after struggling early, he was benched at halftime of this past Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots.
“We’re trying to find the right combination there right now in terms of being successful, and that’s why we made that move at that time,” Harbaugh said in his postgame presser Sunday. “It’s not the end for D.J. at all; just that game [and] this night, we felt like that was going to give us the best chance.”
Fluker slid former undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, who began the year as the primary backup at center but had taken over at right guard for Phillips, over to play tackle, and inserted second-year pro Ben Powers at guard.
“Those guys came in and did a great job,” said Jackson. “The line played physical. They played their tails off. [We’ve] just got to keep building.”
Left guard Bradley Bozeman has been the unit’s most consistent player from a health and performance standpoint but he’s not quite playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Center Matt Skura has been under a lot of scrutinies for his play this season from a blocking standpoint after coming off major offseason knee surgery early in the year to snapping issues in the last few weeks.
Against the Patriots in a monsoon, Skura had a pair of errant snaps that killed the momentum of two promising offensive drives by the Ravens in the second half.
He is dealing with a cut on his hand a few weeks ago, but Harbaugh said that it hasn’t affected his ability to span the ball.
“The hand injury is not a factor,” Harbaugh said. “The snaps concern me. That’s very costly in the game and it’s a tough deal. That’s a hard situation, but Matt knows he’s got to get those snaps back there. Nobody feels worse about it than he does.”
The Ravens have no intention of tipping their hand on who will be their starters on the right side of their offensive line when they welcome the Tennessee Titians town for a pivotal matchup in the race for one of the three AFC Wildcard spots.
“We’ll just explore whatever we look at. That will be part of the process in terms of what we do this next game,” Harbaugh said. “I’m probably not going to be talking too much about that this week. We really have no reason to do that. They did a pretty good job, it’s on the tape. We’ll just see we what we do. I would just say this. We’re a work in progress right now with the injuries and the offensive line, and we’re working on it.”
If the Ravens run defense can’t hold up better versus Titans and punishing Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry than they did against the Patriots last week, the offensive line will need to be on point because the offense will need to maximize every drive they get and won’t be able to afford errant snaps and porous pass protection.