After the 2005 season, many expected the Ravens to focus on improving the offensive line in much the same way that they focused upon fixing the problems at wide receiver after the 2004 season. So far, there’s no evidence suggesting that the team will fix a much maligned unit that oftentimes looked as defenseless against an interior blitz as the levees in New Orleans did against the flow of Katrina.
However according to Brian Billick, "We have some faith in that group going forward in the improvement they’re going to show from one year to the next."
If salaries are an indication of faith then the Ravens have put their money where Brian Billick’s mouth is. Four of the Ravens’ top 10 base salaries for the upcoming 2006 season belong to offensive linemen: Jonathan Ogden ($4.7 million), Edwin Mulitalo ($2 million), Mike Flynn ($1.58 million) and Tony Pashos ($1.57 million).
So is the Ravens front office playing the role of a patient investor? Will such patience be rewarded?
In 2003, the Ravens QB’s were sacked 42 times which left them tied for 22nd in the league at keeping their QB upright. In 2004 the unit improved to 13th in the league while Kyle Boller started all 16 games and was thrown to the turf with ball in hand 13 times. 2005 was a mirror image of 2003 as the team fell to 22nd in the league again allowing 42 sacks.
But sacks may not be the true measure of the decline in the Ravens offensive line. Many things factor into sack totals. A quarterback’s inability to hit hot reads or communicate effectively with receivers can increase sack totals. Play calling and too many third and long situations can put a quarterback on his back too often. An opponent not respecting a team’s vertical game can compress the field, narrow passing lanes and force a quarterback to eat the football instead of forcing the ball into coverage. A gimpy tailback who can’t break off a long run only adds to the problem.
When Kyle Boller was drafted by the Ravens, clearly he was a raw talent. Sure he has a strong arm – you have to in order to throw the ball through the uprights from one’s knees at the 50 yard line. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a good deep ball. A strong arm isn’t a guarantee that a QB can connect downfield. Phil Savage once told me flat out that, “Kyle Boller does not throw a good deep ball.”
So with all these other factors weighing in, the Ravens offensive line has more pressure on it than say Pittsburgh’s or Cincinnati’s lines. When there’s no respect for the vertical passing game and defenses compress the field, the margin for error increases and the offensive line is under siege.
And it affects the running game as well.
In 2003 the Ravens led the league in rushing and they were tied for third with an average per carry of 4.8 yards. In 2004 that average fell to 4.2 yards and then in 2005 that average fell to 3.6. During the wildcard playoff game in January, 2004, the Titans showed the rest of the NFL how to defend the Ravens. Since then, the Ravens have not answered.
It’s time that they do!
The Ravens obviously think that continuity on the offensive line will help. But other than the addition of Keydrick Vincent last year, the line was pretty much the same as it was in 2003 and 2004.
Ah, but they need to stay healthy, right?
Well of course, but when your offensive line isn’t getting any younger injuries are going to be a factor. Perhaps it’s time to see what the young linemen can do. Perhaps it’s time for the Ravens to trust in their scouts and in their draft of 2005. Trading up to get Adam Terry last year and spending two third round picks and a sixth to get him and then not even activate him for 9 of 16 weeks in 2005 is borderline ridiculous!
Jason Brown was viewed by some scouts as the best center in the 2005 class. Mike Flynn certainly did nothing to keep him on the bench.
Let the kids play! Kick the personal agendas to the curb!
The continuity will help. It will also help at the receiver position. Towards the end of 2005, Kyle Boller began to hit his hot reads more consistently, he converted more third downs and Mark Clayton began to emerge as a threat. Boller has yet to begin a season with the same starting receivers that he ended with the year before. That has to help and it should force opposing defenses to respect them a bit more. With respect comes a less compressed field. It opens things up for the passing and the running game and in doing so it provides relief to the offensive line.
Ozzie Newsome and of course Brian Billick have come under fire. They have more to lose than anyone through their commitment to what many believe is a poor offensive line. Yet they are staying the course. Improved play at quarterback, consistency at wide receiver, a healthy backfield and a commitment to Adam Terry and Jason Brown might reward the faith of Ozzie and Billick – a faith many fans and pundits alike label as blind.
Of course changing the snap count every now and then might help too!