Let’s be honest.
Going into Monday night’s game, you probably thought Detroit’s fearsome defensive line, that includes Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, would dominate Baltimore’s offensive line.
Detroit has arguably the best defensive front in football, and well, Baltimore doesn’t exactly have the best offensive line out there.
But after 60 minutes of football were played at Ford Field, the Ravens not only won in the win-loss column, but in the trenches.
In run defense, the offensive line was its usual mediocre self. But in pass protection, it may have been the line’s best game of the season given the opposition.
With a team primed for a run at the playoffs, proving their ability to hold their own in the trenches against some of the league’s best bodes well moving forward.
They did have their usual mishaps, particularly at the hand of left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard A.Q. Shipley. But on the right side, Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher jelled together in pass protection as well as in any other game they have played in their careers.
And surprisingly, center Gino Gradkowski held his own and had a welcomed high level of awareness for most of the game.
Let’s take a look at where the Ravens offensive line won on Monday night.
But before we delve into pass protection, here’s a look at Yanda at his finest on Monday.
On a Bernard Pierce run play that gained 11 yards, Suh easily beats Yanda off the snap.
Yanda regains his balance after Suh is already past him, but manages to get a large enough grab of him to prevent Suh from disrupting the play.
Yup, Yanda lifted Suh up off the ground. Don’t’ see that very often.
OK, back to the offensive line as a whole.
During the game, you probably heard announcer Jon Gruden mention Detroit’s “stunts” on defense more times than the amount of field goals Justin Tucker made.
That’s because the Lions use stunts – when two defensive players switch directions after the snap – a lot, thanks to the athleticism of their defensive line.
When the defensive tackles are more athletic than most NFL defensive ends, asking them to quickly shift direction and run around a defender in enough time to disrupt a pass play isn’t too tall of a task.
You’d think Baltimore’s offensive line wouldn’t be able to handle Suh, Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young all switching roles at the same time, but for the most part, it did.
On this play, the Lions are in the Wide-9.
Young and Suh perform a stunt, and typically Yanda and Oher would pick up a new defender.
Yanda seals Suh on the outside in the same way a tackle would, and Oher successfully cuts Young toward the middle, giving quarterback Joe Flacco a clean, worry-free pocket.
On another passing situation, the Ravens use the help of three blockers to successfully shut down a Lions stunt.
Everything looks the same this time on the right side, except running back Ray Rice is in to help.
Also keep an eye on the left side.
This time, the blockers switch their assignment mid-play.
Rice picks up Suh with Oher in position to take him on if needed. The only thing left for the Ravens offensive line to do is to pick up Fairley on the left side, who has to be noticed by either Monroe or Shipley.
Monroe picks up Fairley on the outside, and Shipley, Oher and Yanda all seal off the other three Lions defensive linemen.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
OK, another break for one more awesome Yanda play.
On a screen to Rice, Yanda pulls from the right side of the line to the left side of the field and blindsides Fairley.
Back to the offensive line…
It should be noted that the offensive line didn’t completely have its way with Suh and Co.
While the Ravens picked up Detroit’s stunts as well as they could have, they did have their occasional lapse.
On Baltimore’s game-winning offensive drive, the Lions use their typical stunt, with Ansah switching to the inside.
Monroe picks up the outside man, but Shipley stays on him as well, even as Ansah is running right past him.
Shipley, Monroe and Rice all block Fairley, giving Ansah a free shot at Flacco.
This was probably the most forgettable play of the night for the offensive line.
However, Shipley did offer some insight on the play, which may explain what happened.
@kylecasey094 fairley grabbed me and held me from getting back to d end which is ILLEGAL.
— AQ Shipley (@aqshipley) December 18, 2013
Overall, a game that the offensive line can build on. Right now, pass protection is more important than run blocking, mainly because run blocking is a lost cause at this point.
This late in the season, the run game is highly unlikely to suddenly click. The offense’s best bet is to have success in pass protection like it did on Monday night, and hope Flacco can make plays when given ample time.
If Monday night’s performance is any indication of what’s to come, the offensive line should be able to keep Flacco clean for the final two regular season games, and – hopefully – for a few more games after that.