During the Baltimore Ravens’ slew of offseason moves during the 2014 free agency period, perhaps no move was as surprising as the re-signing of Eugene Monroe, particularly because the team managed to re-up the franchise left tackle for five years and just $37.5 million.
At the time, the signing looked like a steal.
Monroe – at the young age of 26 – was signed for almost $10 million less than fellow free agent left tackle Branden Albert, who signed a five-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. With Monroe three years younger than Albert, it was hard not to think that the Ravens blew the Dolphins out of the stadium with their free agent signing.
In fact, Baltimore’s “bargain” on Monroe was one of the most shrewd moves of free agency at the time.
The Ravens had been desperately searching for a franchise left tackle ever since Jonathan Ogden retired after the 2007 season. When Monroe arrived midway through the 2013 season via trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars, he immediately displayed the signs of what the Ravens had been in search of for over five years.
As the 2013 season progressed and the Ravens struggled to stay in the playoff hunt, Monroe’s dominance intensified. On a wildly poor offensive line, Monroe stood out each week, and on a putrid Ravens offense, Monroe was one of the few bright spots.
It was hard not to consider him one of the best – if not THE best – players on the Ravens last season. That made re-signing him a priority, and Baltimore did just that.
But now nine weeks into the 2014 season, could the Ravens soon regret dishing out the money to Monroe? Was there maybe a reason why the team was able to re-sign him without too much bargaining from other teams?
In five games this season (he missed four due to injury), Monroe has looked nothing like his former self. He struggled before his knee surgery, and he has struggled just as often after the knee surgery. Perhaps the injury is playing a part in this dilemma; perhaps it’s something else.
Monroe was a dominant left tackle last season; this year he has been anything but that. He’s lethargic and often looks disinterested as a run blocker, and in pass protection he is getting beat in ways he simply didn’t in 2013.
That could raise the question: has Monroe mailed it in after receiving his huge payday?
For the team’s sake, hopefully that’s not the case. Maybe he’s simply still struggling with the injury, or maybe he’s just going through a slump. Regardless, Monroe hasn’t been good in 2014 and has been a liability at times.
Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was one of Monroe’s poorer outings of the season. He was schooled by a defender almost a decade older than him – James Harrison – and often made things difficult for Joe Flacco as well as the run game.
Let’s take a look at some of Monroe’s struggles from Sunday’s game, which weren’t new occurrences for him this season.
Most of Monroe’s struggles came in pass protection.
This can largely be credited to Harrison, who toyed with Monroe all night.
Known for his power, Harrison wasn’t lacking in speed to defeat Monroe.
As Monroe takes his first step out of his stance, Harrison is already out of his stance and planting his left leg to beat Monroe on the inside.
The play goes downhill quick for Monroe, who barely even positions himself before he’s caught playing catch-up with Harrison.
The speed to the inside by Harrison forces Monroe off balance and has him reaching.
Flacco barely has the ball in his hands before Harrison acquires a clear path to the quarterback.
Monroe displayed quality recovery ability last season; he doesn’t on this play.
Harrison closes in on Flacco before the quarterback can hardly set his feet, forcing an incompletion.
Not only was Monroe beat with speed moves, he was often overpowered by the 36-year old Harrison.
A player who was retired two months ago, Harrison’s strength was simply too much for Monroe, even when the tackle had Harrison one-on-one on the outside.
On this play, the situation is rather favorable for Monroe.
He has just one player – Harrison – to worry about, and the defender’s wide angle to begin the pass rush pursuit gives Monroe more than enough space to work with.
Unfortunately for Monroe, Harrison has the size (or lack of size depending on how you look at it) advantage on a play like this.
With such a wide angle to the quarterback, Harrison won’t have enough time to beat Monroe with speed.
Instead, he uses his small frame to get under the lengthy Monroe.
Harrison begins to dip his shoulder to implement his pass rush move.
Monroe should see this coming; getting under blockers and driving through is Harrison’s signature.
The tackle doesn’t seem to be prepared, though, as Harrison easily pushes through.
As Harrison slides through and around Monroe, the blocker is completely out of whack as he tries to make a last-second effort to hold Harrison off as he closes in on Flacco.
The attempt is too little too late, as Harrison ultimately bursts by and sacks Flacco.
Sunday night was perhaps Monroe’s lowest moment as a pass blocker this season. He hasn’t been too bad, but he is far from the reliable edge sealer he was just a year ago.
As mentioned, he often gets knocked around as a run blocker and simply looks out of it at times on run plays this season.
Here, as Monroe comes across toward the right as a run blocker, he is already getting thrown to the ground before running back Justin Forsett even receives the handoff.
Cutback runs are staples of Baltimore’s offense, and this play appears to be just that.
After receiving the handoff, Forsett bounces toward the left, however Monroe is already on the ground already, clogging up a run lane for his ball carrier.
After shoving Monroe over, the Steelers defensive lineman clogs up the run lane that Forsett appeared to originally intend to run through.
This forces Forsett to redirect back to the right, where he is ultimately met by a swarm of Steelers defenders who immediately halt the play.
Being pushed over without putting up a fight simply isn’t something we would have seen from Monroe last year. We may never know why Monroe is struggling as bad as he is this year, but the bottom line is he has been a major disappointment after proving to be a franchise left tackle in 2013.
If the Ravens are going to make a late season push for the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least five of their final seven games. That will call for the offensive line to play as well as it did earlier in the season.
A feat such as that can’t be achieved without improved play on Monroe’s part.