OWINGS MILLS – Rewards could be awaiting the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line, and not only the extra financial incentives triggered by advancing in the playoffs.
There’s also the gift variety from appreciative quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, the beneficiaries of their blocking.
Flacco has been sacked only 24 times this season after being decked 40 times a year ago. And Rice has rushed for 1,029 yards with three games remaining in the regular season.
"Joe does a pretty good job taking care of us, getting us a gift,” offensive guard Ben Grubbs said. “One year he gave us an iPad. Another year, he gave us about 500-600 dollars. Ray has some big shoes to fill.
“He could get us a car, a free trip maybe. He could invite us to the Pro Bowl, all expenses paid. We’re offensive linemen, we have no expectations.”
In particular, Flacco has been provided outstanding protection from harm lately.
He has been sacked only five times in the past four games.
“Those guys are doing a really good job,” Flacco said. “They’re really starting to work really well together. To be honest with you, teams haven’t really brought a lot of pressure on us other than their front four. Our guys have done a great job.”
During a 24-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Flacco twice.
Freeney and Robert Mathis comprise one of the most dangerous pass rushing tandems in the game.
“Last week we had two of the best guys in the game on the end, and our guys did a great job,” Flacco said. “Freeney got to me a couple times. Hey, sometimes you’ve just got to take those sacks and move on. Our guys did a great job all game, and I think we did a good job of taking advantage of them in other ways also.”
Flacco was sacked 19 times during the first eight games, but that pace has slowed down considerably.
There are 15 quarterbacks that have been sacked more than Flacco.
Some of that is attributable to him getting the football out of his hand.
“You don’t want to be back there taking sacks when you’ve got guys open downfield,” Flacco said. “Sometimes, there is nothing down there and it is at the point of the game where you can’t really do anything stupid. So taking one here and there is not a bad thing.
“You find yourself running off the field sometimes, but it’s a lot better than having the defense run out onto the field and not the punt team. So there are times that it’s advantageous for us, as a team, to take those sacks. You don’t want to get into a habit of doing that.”
Flacco has yet to be sacked in the first quarter.
That’s another reason why the Ravens have outscored opponents by a 75-33 margin in the first quarter.
“I hadn’t realized that, but, yeah, to get in a rhythm as an offense and get your confidence going and get everybody’s confidence going can be important,” Flacco said. “I think we just play well when we do get off to a good start and can get in that rhythm early. So, it definitely helps us out.”
Once regarded as a makeshift offensive line since Bryant McKinnie was signed before the start of the season to play left tackle and Matt Birk and Grubbs missed time with injuries, the Ravens’ improved continuity since the preseason is paying dividends.
“We’re running the ball, passing the ball well, able to protect Joe,” said Grubbs, who missed several games with a turf toe injury. “Whenever we give Joe enough time he’s able to do his thing back there. I’m thankful to be back and be healthy enough to contribute to the team."