The Ravens are packing their bags for New Orleans because the front office and coaching staff have pulled the trigger on a bunch of key moves over the past 12 months, from extending Ray Rice and signing players like Corey Graham and Justin Tucker to changing offensive coordinators and switching up the offensive line.
That last move was arguably the most impactful, as the offensive line has been great the past three weeks.
Just how great? I ask you this, when was the last time you cringed as Joe Flacco endured a crushing sack?
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In the playoffs, the Ravens -- and the whole offense should split the credit for this, not just the transformed Ravens offensive line -- have allowed Flacco to get sacked four times and hit five other times, according to the guys over at Pro Football Focus. Overall, they say Flacco has been pressured a total of 23 times in three postseason games. That’s an average of about four fewer pressures per game than what Flacco had faced during the regular season.
With Flacco taking fewer hard hits and getting a little more time to scan the field as his receivers try to shake free from defensive backs, who have often tried to bump them at the line of scrimmage, the Ravens offense has averaged 30 points per game in these playoffs, second to only the San Francisco 49ers (36.5 per game).
Flacco has been making quick (and smart) decisions and getting the ball out fast, which also obviously helps his linemen. All three of his touchdown passes in Sunday’s win over the New England Patriots were out of his hand within a couple of seconds.
With eight touchdown passes and no picks, Flacco can tie Joe Montana’s record for the most touchdown passes in a postseason without an interception if he throws three more in the Super Bowl.
For Flacco to continue flinging touchdown passes against the fourth-ranked pass defense of the 49ers, the Ravens offensive line must hold firm for 60 more minutes against pass-rushing outside linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive end Justin Smith.
Aldon Smith will be a threat on the edges to Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher. After being benched during the regular season, McKinnie has played well at left tackle, though he was a little shaky against the Patriots. Oher, back at right tackle now, has fared much better in pass protection there, allowing just three pressures since the switch was made before the Indianapolis Colts game.
Justin Smith, a big defensive end in their 3-4 front, will be a load to handle on the interior, which has held up well with rookie Kelechi Osemele now at left guard. Center Matt Birk is probably playing his best ball of the season, and he got a little redemption by handling Patriots man mountain Vince Wilfork on Sunday. Birk has allowed just one pressure all postseason, per Pro Football Focus. Marshal Yanda has continued to be Marshal Yanda -- a beast.
This isn’t the first time that this has been written, and it certainly won’t be the last considering the looming media crush of the next 12 days, but the decision to insert McKinnie and shake things up across the rest of the offensive line has certainly paid significant dividends. One might say it was one of many Super moves.