The Ravens must address the offensive line like they said they would last offseason. It has been about 11 months since the Ravens held their last "State of the Ravens" news conference, two weeks earlier than they would have liked last January. Amidst questions about Joe Flacco's strong playoff performance and the future of Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans, who were the goats from a 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, the Baltimore brain trust pledged to improve their offensive line, saying it was among their most pressing offseason concerns. Here we are today, after a third straight Ravens loss put them at 9-5, and the offensive line is in worse shape than it was a year ago. The Ravens tried to bring back Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, who got more money from the New Orleans Saints than the Ravens were willing to offer, and then tried to woo Evan Mathis to replace him. But by the time Mathis had decided to stick with the Philadelphia Eagles, the cap-strapped Ravens had few options left to choose from on the free-agent market. They were forced to keep their chronically out-of-shape offensive tackle, Bryant McKinnie, and they gave a two-year contract to 36-year-old Bobbie Williams to play guard. They did spend two of their first four draft picks on offensive linemen, tackle Kelechi Osemele and center Gino Gradkowski, but you never know what you are going to get out of rookies. Osemele has struggled at right tackle in the second half of a promising season, but he has been just a small part of the problem. There has been a major drop-off at left guard, and you could make a case that there has been at least a minor dip in production at each of the other four spots, starting with left tackle Michael Oher, whose missed blocks led to game-changing plays in two of the past three games. With Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda out of the lineup on Sunday with a significant ankle sprain, the fierce pass rushers of the Denver Broncos looked like they were playing Red Rover against a group of kindergarteners. They repeatedly burst through to disrupt running plays or chase quarterback Joe Flacco out of his comfort zone. Late in the third quarter, CBS flashed a stat that said Flacco had been hurried 16 times and knocked down on eight plays. Those numbers kept climbing as the Ravens were forced to abandon the running game, and the game ended with Flacco getting sacked to the turf hard on consecutive plays. This was not an isolated occurrence, as Flacco has now been sacked 34 times in 14 games after getting sacked 31 times in 16 games in 2011. Flacco and dismissed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron share most of the blame for Flacco's struggles this season, but the offensive line should shoulder some of the blame, too. And the front office for not adequately addressing this need. McKinnie won't be back next season, and Williams and veteran center Matt Birk could opt to retire. Michael Oher, a 2009 first-round pick, will be in the final year of his contract in 2013. Yanda, Osemele, Gradkowski and guard Jah Reid will be building blocks along the offensive line next year, but it's clear the Ravens need to make good on their promise from 11 months ago and make this line a strength again.
Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron