OWINGS MILLS — Kyle Boller retreated five steps in the pocket, tilting his helmet to his right as he strained to peer around incoming Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith.
In roughly the same amount of time it would take for the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line to shout, ‘Look out!,’ Smith had roughly deposited Boller on the ground for his second sack of the game.
During the Ravens’ 33-30 overtime loss Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, pass protection became a problematic situation again as Baltimore (4-6) allowed six sacks to tie a season-high established during the team’s 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We had our ups and downs, they hurt us a little bit," said offensive guard Chris Chester, who struggled to slow down Smith’s upfield charge. "I gave up a couple pressures. As a unit, though, I think we played in a pretty productive manner, but, of course, there were things we need to get cleaned up."
Despite playing against a team that entered the game ranked last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed, the Ravens struggled to protect Boller as he was hit nine times.
One of the pressures contributed to Boller throwing an interception that was returned 100 yards by safety Brodney Pool for a touchdown.
"Pure execution, getting into a rhythm," said Ravens coach Brian Billick when asked Monday where the problems lie. "They did some good things. That’s not just the line, sometimes it’s the backs and tight ends. There’s a lot of intensity and focus there that can be done differently. A group that like the whole team, there’s certain things you can do better.
"This is a group that is capable of, as we saw last year, minimal sacks and running the ball well. There were a couple of looks that they picked up very, very well to give Kyle more time to make some great throws downfield. There were a couple other things that we’ve done well that got away from us."
For the season, Baltimore has allowed 23 sacks for 131 lost yards and is on pace to allow 36 for the year.
A year ago, it was an entirely different story as Baltimore surrendered 17 sacks for a franchise-record low and the second-fewest in the league last year behind the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts’ total of 15.
The Ravens’ blocking picked up the second half against Cleveland even though there were three sacks allowed in each half against a team that entered Sunday with just 11 sacks.
"We knew he was the type of quarterback that didn’t like pressure in his face," defensive end Orpheus Roye said of Boller. "So, we brought a little pressure to get him rattled early.
"We knew with their backs against the wall, they were going to come out with everything. We just had to put pressure on him to get him rattled early.â€
During the first half, the Ravens produced just 38 yards and two first downs.
During the second half, they rebounded as Boller had sufficient time to complete 17 of 30 passes for 255 yards and a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devard Darling.
Baltimore generated 330 yards, 21 first downs and 23 points after halftime. Plus, running back Willis McGahee finished with 102 yards and a touchdown.
â€œIn the second half, it picked up," left offensive guard Jason Brown said. "We played pretty well. I wish that we could have played that way every game and finish every game like the second half, because we really got some good things going.â€
Overall, though, this was a definite step backward for a young line that had been improving.
Continuity could be an issue. Brown is the lone blocker to start every game. All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden has been limited to three starts due to his turf toe injury. Mike Flynn has missed time due to knee sprain, and right tackle Adam Terry returned three games ago from a sprained ankle to replace intense rookie Marshal Yanda.
Rookie right guard Ben Grubbs has played capably since becoming a starter, drawing solid reviews in league circles.
Overall, this seems like a unit that’s capable of playing more adeptly than it has been lately.
"So you look at it, you say, â€˜Guys, weâ€™ve done this better, what was the difficulty here?â€™" Billick said. "Letâ€™s go forward. Itâ€™s a good group. Weâ€™ve just got to collectively play better like everybody."
NOTE: Free safety Ed Reed, linebacker Bart Scott, Boller, wide receiver Mark Clayton, linebacker Ray Lewis, quarterback Steve McNair, running backs P.J. Daniels, Justin Green, Le’Ron McClain, Cory Ross and Musa Smith combined to distribute more than 1,500 Thanksgiving meals to Baltimore families over the past two days.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran