The Baltimore Ravens may be tied for first place in the AFC North at 2-2, but don’t let that record fool you. They have played four games, and in all four the offense has suffered from a failure to launch. If you’re looking for the culprit, look no further than the big men up front. The offensive line has been terrible, and it's the reason that the Ravens offense has stalled.
Baltimore’s offense starts on the ground—only it hasn’t this year. They have averaged 64 rushing yards per game (fifth-worst) and 2.6 yards per carry (second-worst).
Watching the tape, the running backs deserve a shockingly small portion of the blame for these abysmal numbers. The analysts at ProFootballFocus rated the Ravens O-line as the third-worst run-blocking group in the NFL (subscription required).
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were supposed to be a devastating one-two punch this season, but they have had no running lanes and have constantly been stuffed as defensive linemen have broken through the O-line.
Look at the first play from the game against the Buffalo Bills, who were the second-worst rushing defense before holding Baltimore to just 24 yards on the ground.
If everything goes according to plan, Ray Rice should have a big hole to run through (yellow arrow). Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele are responsible for sealing off the lane, while Vonta Leach (green) and Gino Gradkowski need to get to the second level and block the linebackers (Nos. 52 and 50).
Gradkowski needs to chip Marcell Dareus (blue line segment), until Marshal Yanda can take over, and then work his way to the second level. As has frequently been the case this season, the play wasn’t executed properly.
McKinnie does his job (green circle), and Leach also succeeds by getting downfield and blocking Arthur Moats (52). On the contrary, Osemele can’t seal off Kyle Williams (95), and Gradkowski can’t disengage from his chip block (blue circle), so Kiko Alonso (50) plugs up the running lane.
Furthermore, both Ed Dickson and Michael Oher fail to get on the correct side of their assignments, and the play is blown up for a loss when Rice has to bounce the play outside and has nowhere to go. The icing on the cake is that Osemele is called for a personal foul, and the Ravens are backed up 15 yards as a result.
The futility carried on throughout the day, like on this stretch play.
The entire line should slide to the right, giving Rice the space to get outside the tackles and turn upfield.
Oher gets beaten inside immediately, which kills the play. Rice has to bounce the play back to the inside, where Kiko Alonso is waiting for him.
Osemele has good position to block Alonso, but he inexplicably tries a cut block despite outweighing him by almost 100 pounds. He whiffs on the block, and Rice is brought down at the line of scrimmage.
The line is giving up way too much penetration, and the running backs can’t go anywhere as a result. Consequently, Baltimore completely abandoned the ground game in the second half against the Bills, running the ball only twice.
The fact that nobody has spoken out about the lack of carries speaks volumes. Nobody has any faith in the running game right now.
Unable to move the ball on the ground, Joe Flacco has faced many third-and-long situations this season. The O-line hasn’t been able to block for him either.
According to ProFootballFocus, Baltimore is the ninth-worst pass-blocking team in the NFL, and it has given up 11 quarterback hurries per game—the sixth-highest number in the league (subscription required).
The Ravens have made a move to remedy the situation, agreeing in principle to a deal that would bring them left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
While Monroe is a good young tackle and a former first-round pick, the problems of the O-line go far beyond one player. The entire unit has executed poorly at times, and the communication has broken down repeatedly.
Part of the communication issues can be attributed to having Gino Gradkowski as the starting center instead of Matt Birk. Gradkowski is the worst center in the league, according to ProFootballFocus, earning a grade of -11.8 (subscription required).
While one personnel move has already been made to address the issue, A.Q. Shipley may get a chance with the starters if Gradkowski continues to struggle.
It’s easy to look at the stats (like Flacco’s high number of interceptions or Rice’s low average), but sometimes the problem goes beyond the box score.
The offensive line has to play better for the offense to have any chance at improving—they certainly can’t play any worse than they did against Buffalo.