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Improved offense hinges on consistent offensive line play for Ravens

The Ravens appear to have found the right formula for winning on offense, but it has as much to do with the improved play of the offensive line as it does with a change in philosophy.

The key word in the NFL is consistency, and once the Ravens found it on the line, they got it on offense. It's no coincidence that it all began with the return of left guard Ben Grubbs to the starting lineup against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6

Since then, the Ravens are 3-1. They have surrendered just one sack in the past three games, and quarterback Joe Flacco looks more comfortable in the pocket than ever. While the Ravens are putting the ball into the hands of running back Ray Rice more than earlier in the year, they still keep teams off balance.

They have a good short passing game to complement a steady running attack, and the opposition can't just shorten the field defensively against the Ravens because of the Flacco-to-Torrey Smith long-ball connection.

Not all of the newfound success can be attributed to Grubbs, but his familiarity with the offense has helped a once-struggling Bryant McKinnie, the starting left tackle. Grubbs also gives the Ravens more power up the middle, and his athleticism helps boost plays such as screens, tosses and traps.

Since his return, the line play has improved, and Flacco certainly isn't taking as much of a pounding. With five games remaining, the line play should improve even more.

Need to run right

The Ravens have a lot of work to do on short-yardage situations, and in some cases, it's not as easy to correct as some think.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron deserves some blame for the failures against San Francisco, but the players deserve some, too.

The Ravens can't run off the edges, because tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson aren't good blockers and are getting stuffed. They have allowed too much penetration at different times this season.

In the past, the Ravens have run to the left in certain situations, but Grubbs might not have total ability to push off because of his toe injury, and Matt Birk is more of a finesse center than a physical one.

It's apparent that the Ravens either have to run to the right behind fullback Vonta Leach, guard Marshal Yanda or tackle Michael Oher (which isn't a bad idea), or Cameron has to come up with something tricky.

I'd prefer the first option.

Kruger making good

If there is a Ravens poster child for hard work this season, the award would go to third-season outside linebacker Paul Kruger. Kruger's performance is also the result of good scouting and the frequency with which the Ravens draft a player with an edge.

When Kruger first arrived in Baltimore as a second-round pick out of Utah, he was undersized and stiff. He spent the first two seasons going back and forth from defensive end to outside linebacker.

The Ravens moved him permanently back to outside linebacker this season, and he has become one of the team's top pass rushers. Kruger has 10 tackles, including five sacks, as a part-time pass-rushing specialist. And over the years, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Kruger has added about 15 to 20pounds of bulk, which shows his hard work in the weight room.

Cameron to San Diego?

There is speculation that Norv Turner will be fired as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, possibly the biggest bust of the NFL season.

If Turner gets fired, Cameron might be on the Chargers' list of possible replacements.

Cameron was the Chargers' offensive coordinator from 2002 until 2006, and he left there on favorable terms before becoming head coach of Miami in 2007.

If the Ravens go deep into the playoffs or make a Super Bowl appearance, Cameron might at least get an interview.

No more Tebow

All right, enough of the Tim Tebow stuff already.

He's a good athlete, and the Denver coaching staff has done a good job of catering to his running quarterback skills on offense, but the Broncos have beaten some pretty weak teams in the Chargers, Miami, Oakland and Kansas City.

Tebow's success also shows how weak the NFL has become. His fame will last as long as it takes for some defensive coordinators to figure it out, sort of like the Wildcat offense. It came and went.

Let Lewis rest

Now that the Ravens have played two good defensive games without Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis, we don't have to worry about all the little updates this week.

I don't care whether he is or is not practicing or whether he is or isn't talking. In fact, I wouldn't even rush him back from the toe injury. The Ravens should allow him to take his time and get him ready for the final couple of weeks of the regular season and into the post season.

Since Lewis has been out, Jameel McClain, who started with Lewis on the inside, has stepped up his game.

Special treatment for Patriots

With the Ravens not playing over the weekend, I got a chance to watch several games on TV, including New England at Philadelphia.

I used to like announcer Dan Dierdorf because he was so good with the X's and O's, but now he has become such a cheerleader for the league. Also, l thought Tom Brady and the Patriots got a lot of home cooking in Foxboro, but they do wherever they go.

There just seems to be one set of rules for the Patriots and Brady, and another for the rest of the league.

Run Ricky late

Ravens backup running back Ricky Williams scares me handling the ball, but I like him relieving starter Ray Rice in the fourth quarter.

Williams is more of a north-south runner and might break one late in the game when the other team is tired. Few backs hit a hole as hard and directly as Williams.

Now, if he could just make a defender miss in the open field …

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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