A toe injury to starting left guard Jah Reid has been a blessing in disguise for the Ravens offensive line – or at least for left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Instead of being entrenched on the Ravens’ starting offensive line, McKinnie had found himself a first row seat in John Harbaugh’s doghouse – rarely playing and being forced to take a pay cut just six days before the Ravens played their season opener.
Reid’s injury and veteran guard Bobbie Williams’ ineffectiveness basically forced Harbaugh’s hand, prompting McKinnie to receive his first start of the season in the Ravens’ most important game thus far.
Inserting McKinnie at left tackle caused shifting along the offensive line. Apart from left guard, a spot which was previously occupied by Ben Grubbs, 4/5 of the 2011 offensive line had been restored, with McKinnie, right guard Marshal Yanda, center Matt Birk, and right tackle Michael Oher lining up where they did last year. Even though rookie Kelechi Osemele isn’t to Grubbs’ caliber just yet, he’s been promising and was even named to ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s 2012 All-Rookie team.
“I thought the line did a great job last week with Bryant [McKinnie] and K.O. [Kelechi Osemele] on the left and moving Mike [Oher] to the right,” Flacco said as he met with the media on a short week before playing the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Flacco then hinted that there wouldn’t be any changes to the line this week by saying, ”…and I think they’ll do a good job this week.”
The old but newly configured line and subsequent shifting has clearly elevated Flacco’s comfort level. While facing two of the NFL’s premier edge pass rushers in the Colts’ Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Flacco was only sacked once and hit three times, according to Pro Football Focus.
Throughout the regular season, Flacco had been sacked 35 times and hit an average of four times per game.
On 24 passing plays against the Colts, McKinnie only allowed one hurry on Flacco whereas Oher allowed two. Each of the hits to Flacco came from the interior parts of the line as Osemele, Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk each allowed one.
“They played really well together, and I felt comfortable back there,” Flacco said.
The combination of McKinnie’s addition and a more mobile pocket translated well on Sunday as Flacco’s passes were a lot more accurate – especially throwing down the field – something he has struggled with at times. Flacco targeted wide receiver Anquan Boldin four times with passes greater than 20 yards, connecting on each of them.
The 24-9 victory made Flacco the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to not only make the playoffs in the first five seasons of his career, but win at least one game as well.
While those accomplishments are nice, the only one that matters inside the Ravens locker room is becoming a Super Bowl Champion.
Standing in their way are the Broncos, as the Ravens prepare to travel to Denver and play on Saturday. Quarterback Peyton Manning will certainly put points on the board, and for the Ravens to win, their offense is going to have to click on all cylinders.
During their Week 15 matchup, Flacco was sacked three times by the Denver defense and was hit nine times. It was evident that he didn’t have much time in the pocket, resulting an embarassing home loss where Flacco was booed off the field.
More time for Flacco to make decisions is key on Saturday, and the current offensive line configuration gives the Ravens the best chance to have that extra time.