Improved OL Key to Ravens’ Playoff Hopes

offensivelinetrainingcamp2014

With the first preseason game just a week away for the Baltimore Ravens, and the regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals quickly approaching, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the 2014 season.

After an abnormal 2013 season in which the Ravens not only failed to make the playoffs – for the first time since 2007 – but looked terrible in the process, all stock signs are pointing up this time around. For as bad as the team looked last year – capped off by a historically poor team yards per carry of 3.1 – it still finished 8-8, and was 15 minutes away from sneaking into the playoffs as a Wild Card.

But for the team to get back into the playoffs this time around, what will be the difference maker?

The defense surely isn’t the problem, as it ranked 12th in the NFL last season in yards allowed and points per game. With new additions such as C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan and Terrence Brooks, the defensive side should be as good as last season, if not better.

On offense, the Ravens have a surprisingly deep group of receivers that should give quarterback Joe Flacco much more options than last season. The improved group of tight ends – highlighted by a healthy Dennis Pitta – will help solidify the passing attack.

The front office also helped improve the putrid rushing attack by drafting Lorenzo Taliaferro and signing veteran Justin Forsett, giving the team a four-deep group of ball carriers that should allow offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to diversify the run game.

That leaves us with the one aspect of the team that almost singlehandedly held the Ravens out of the playoffs last season: the offensive line.

Last year, we watched the likes of Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley and Michael Oher (for finally the last time) take the field for the Ravens.

Odds are, in your lifetime, there won’t be a worse Ravens offensive line than what was on display in 2013.

A unit that can take some of the blame for yards per carry averages of 3.1 and 2.9 for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, respectively, Baltimore’s (likely) improved starting five should be a heavy difference maker in the pursuit toward improving a horrid run game from a year ago.

Much of Flacco’s worst season of his career – where he had more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (19) – can be attributed to his erratic accuracy and decision making, but a more solidified unit protecting him likely would have limited his turnover tendencies last season.

Fixing the offensive line was an offseason priority, and the team did make some efforts for improvement. They re-signed their best lineman from a year ago (left tackle Eugene Monroe), return a healthier Marshal Yanda and made improvement at the other three slots.

The process started by letting Oher walk in free agency, replacing him (so far) with second-year tackle Ricky Wagner, who is perfectly capable of not only replacing Oher, but being an improvement in due time. So far through training camp, it’s been Wagner’s job to lose, and he hasn’t slipped up to this point.

On the interior, dumping Shipley and Gradkowski (though both are still on the team) out of the starting lineup was a must.

Replacing Shipley was easier, since third-year guard Kelechi Osemele – appearing to be 100% after a season-ending back injury – will return to the starting lineup, and his renewed presence up front may be the most notable of Baltimore’s starting linemen this season.

At center, even a six-year old with no prior football viewing experience could tell the Ravens needed an upgrade.

Gradkowski got his chance to prove he could be the team’s long-term answer at center, but failed to seize the opportunity, likely preventing himself from ever again being in contention for the starting center job in Baltimore.

He was replaced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Jeremy Zuttah, who signed a five-year deal with the team, proving the team’s plans for him to be a mainstay with the team.

Center was the one position that needed to be improved most, and Zuttah will be an upgrade over Gradkowski and a much more reliable player to anchor the interior of the offensive line.

It’s hard not to be more excited about this year’s unit than 2013′s 16-game disappointment.

The Ravens almost snuck into the playoffs last year with arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL.

With even a slightly improved line – although there should be a fairly noticeable improvement – turnovers on offense should be limited, and Baltimore’s rush attack will be an upgrade over the laughing stock that it was last season.

That may just be the difference maker in whether or not the Ravens return to playing football in January.

This entry was posted in Blog View, Featured by Kyle Casey. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kyle Casey

Kyle Casey
Kyle's love of pro and college football stems from his passion for the Baltimore Ravens. He has held season tickets in section 542 of M&T Bank Stadium since 2004. He is currently a sophomore Mass Communications student at Towson University....more

2 Raves on “Improved OL Key to Ravens’ Playoff Hopes

  1. justifythegame on said:

    I have nothing against Gino gradkowski as a person. And I do feel bad for him, i want him to have potential, but honestly, based on his play last year, I just don’t get how he was even drafted. It wouldn’t be far fetched to call him the worst starting olinenan on all 32 teams, but what scares me is how the ravens didn’t sign a free agent c for all 16 games. That shows a weakness within the coaching staff. I’m all for going players a chance but it was pretty apparent gradkowski wasn’t NFL material and he still started. And BTW he is STILL on the roster. And what if the ravens staff ended the Oher experiment 2 years ago? IMO we didn’t need his bad play for so long had the ravens been able to accept a bad pick. This is something harbs needs to improve on. But then again I’m just a fan…maybe Gino can be like vikings center john Sullivan who was once the worst center in the nfl for 2 yrs before becoming a pro bowler.

  2. Brian Tray on said:

    The offensive line was the single most detriment to last year’s effort. We couldn’t run the ball which made us one dimensional. Joe was under tremendous pressure which led to horrible interceptions and many 3-and-outs. This put the defense under great pressure and basically wore them out by the 4th quarter and by the end of the season they were toast.
    2014 promises to be a lot different. Start with a healthy K.O. He has every reason to make the pro bowl. He is a dominant force on the inside. Zuttah will give us a veteran at center who is strong and should be able to call out blocking assignments as he is intelligent. A healthy Yanda and a solid left tackle in Monroe really gives Baltimore a good offensive line. It looks like Wagner will be solid at right tackle but that remains to be seen. Most importantly though we have some decent depth this year. My second team line is Reid, Jensen, Urschel, Rackley and Hurst. Reid is apparently showing some skills and improvement while battling for the right tackle job. About time. Unfortunately, it’s time to let Gradkowski and Shipley go. They were just too ineffective. Barring some major transformation their time as Ravens is over.
    Having an entire preseason to work together should turn the offensive line into one of the strengths of the team this year. If so, Kubiak will look like a genius and Joe will have his best year. I think Kubiak has more talent than he has ever had and he should be able to get the most out of them. I can easily see the Ravens having a top 10 offense.
    Couple that with one of the deepest and most talented defenses we have ever had and we are going to win a lot of ball games.
    This is the most optimistic I have been in the preseason for a long time. Although cautious optimism is prudent after last year I see this team being FAR BETTER than last year.
    Can’t wait to find out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

 

Hot off the street

THURSDAY INJURY REPORT: Ravens @ Steelers

Ravens DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh); TE Owen Daniels (knee); CB Jimmy Smith (foot); LB Terrell Suggs (neck) LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justin Forsett (ankle); G Marshal Yanda...read more

TALE OF THE TAPE: An Extra Dose of “Zo”

After a 2013 season in which the Baltimore Ravens rush attack averaged a historically poor 3.1 yards per attempt, the run game in the Charm City has been nothing but positive. Ranking fifth in the ...read more

FANTASY LINKS: Starts and Sits Week 9

Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9 With teams like the Packers, Bears, and Packers on a bye this week, decisions to start and sit players become even more difficult. The guys over at numberFire ...read more

FILMSTUDY: Defensive Highs And Lows in Cincinnati

Defensive Notes vs. Bengals 10/26/14 Matt Elam’s problems mushroomed Sunday with 5 missed tackles versus the Bengals. How much did that cost the Ravens? Let’s take a look: • (Q1, 13:27): ...read more

The Nickel Package: Week 9 at Pittsburgh

Here are five things to keep an eye on this Sunday night when the Ravens face the Steelers for the 41st time in franchise history. Antonio Brown vs. Baltimore's depleted secondary It's no secret...read more

View More