The construction process started in 2007, under Brian Billick’s regime.
For the first time in their history, the front office used a first-round pick on an interior lineman. Little did anyone know that at the time, the selection of offensive guard Ben Grubbs would start something special on the “other side of the ball” in Baltimore.
Grubbs was joined by Marshall Yanda in the third-round. With a supplemental pick, the Ravens drafted talented yet underachieving left tackle Jared Gaither. This new group of linemen was selected to ease the transition process from stalwarts like Mike Flynn, Edwin Mulitalo and future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.
Over the years, Yanda and Grubbs served as pillars at the guard spot. They ushered in a new dimension to the offensive line: agility and the ability to pull. They also changed the Ravens’ focus in the draft. No longer was the offensive line an afterthought. It was front and center.
After Grubbs and Yanda, the Ravens used another first-round pick on Michael Oher in 2009. In 2010, they used a third-round choice on Jah Reid. And last year, they used a second-round selection on Kelechi Osemele.
Along with a renewed dedication to consistently add talent through the draft, the front office also peppered the lineup with veterans like Matt Birk, Willie Anderson, Bryant McKinnie and most recently, Bobbie Williams.
Once the foundation of the offense was in place, the skill players came next. Flacco and Rice are well documented as being franchise choices in 2008.
But problems persisted at the wide receiver position. From Patrick Johnson, to Travis Taylor, to Mark Clayton, and a cast of other characters, the Ravens just could not find a legitimate go-to threat.
The arrival of Torrey Smith changed everything.
In one fell swoop, Smith became the dynamic threat the offense missed for years. Moreover, the drafting of Smith coincided with the team’s move away from slower, aging possession receivers like Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Smith has turned out to be the receiver that Ozzie Newsome was looking for all along. His ability as a vertical threat perfectly complements Flacco’s big arm.
Without this draft selection, and the calculated move of releasing Mason, Houshmandzadeh, and tight end Todd Heap, the offensive evolution would not have taken place. The Ravens were moving in quicksand and needed to break free in the worst way. It was Newsome’s push to get more speed on the field—no doubt looking at what Pittsburgh did with speedsters like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown—that propelled them forward.
With Smith and Anquan Boldin, Flacco finally had receivers that could take over a game. While Mason was a solid, dependable possession receiver, he was someone that defenses could limit because he wasn’t a downfield threat.
Defending Smith and Boldin isn’t as elementary. Take away Smith, and Boldin can rip you up underneath. Take away Boldin, and Smith can burn you over the top.
The final element of the offense came back to Heap’s replacements, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Both players presented the same pass-catching skills of their mentor. It is Pitta who has emerged as the slot receiver alongside Boldin and Smith.
After assembly, the current personnel grouping could be described this way: They can attack every layer of the field.
Want to stretch the seams? Pitta and Boldin can handle it.
Want to work the linebackers underneath? Rice is the best in the business out of the backfield.
Want to have an inside-outside running game? Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce can be the ball carriers in either direction.
Want to stretch the field? Baltimore is the best deep ball passing team in the business with Flacco, Smith and Jacoby Jones.
The Ravens have transformed into the most complete offensive machine in the postseason.
Newsome and Eric DeCosta deserve credit for laying the foundation nearly six years ago.