After all the scrutiny on the offensive line this preseason, the uncertainty of which five linemen would start in the season opener, and the surprise when Ramon Harewood ran out of the tunnel with the starters on Monday night, the new-look Ravens offensive line got it done.
Now the Ravens are preparing for a much different challenge — one of the league's quickest and deepest defensive lines. Last weekend, the Philadelphia Eagles harassed Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in a 17-16 win, and a defensive line rotation led by speedy defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin will be looking to do the same to Flacco on Sunday.
"It's amazing," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who spent a decade on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia. "They've got 10 defensive linemen on the roster. They are all legitimate pass rushers. They are all high-motor, high-effort guys. I have been around Trent Cole when we were there. The energy he plays with is really amazing. The whole defensive front is like that."
Babin was third in the NFL in 2011 with 18 sacks and Cole had 11, making them the only pair of teammates to record more than 10 sacks each. Philadelphia tied for the league lead with 50.
"Those guys are so explosive and play with such great intensity," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "They're up the field. It's tough for an offense to put an edge on the defense. They [line up] so wide and they're explosive. … Two great players, and they really do a nice job in that defensive scheme."
Against the Browns on Sunday, the Eagles swarmed Weeden, sacked him twice and intercepted him four times. He completed just 12 of 35 throws for 118 yards and had a passer rating of 5.1.
Babin, who will line up across from rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele on Sunday, had a sack and three quarterback hurries. Cole did not get to Weeden, but he blew by Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on one play and forced Weeden to rush a throw that ricocheted off the turf. Michael Oher, who on Monday made his first start at left tackle since 2010, will be asked to deal with Cole.
"Babin and Cole are just tremendous pass rushers. When they put them out wide, these two just crash the corners, and they're lethal," said CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, a former NFL offensive lineman. "Michael Oher is more than capable, but the rookie at right tackle, I don't know. On the road in Philadelphia against the guy like Jason Babin, he's going to need some help."
Osemele, a 2012 second-round pick, started at right tackle in his first NFL game. He was joined in the starting five by Harewood — virtually a rookie himself after spending his first two seasons on injured reserve. Harewood was a surprise starter at left guard over veteran Bobbie Williams.
Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was pleased with how those two blocked against the Bengals, but he said that the Eagles will present a "completely different style of defense."
One key aspect will be the "wide-nine" alignment the Eagles sometimes use in which the defensive linemen shift about a foot farther to the outside and the ends tilt toward the quarterback (the numerical name is a nod to the technique the ends play). The purpose is to get quick penetration.
"Just the width itself, [they set] the trap of trying to make a lineman think that they have to come out to block you, and now you get beat inside," Cameron said of the wide-nine, which became a buzz phrase in Philadelphia last season. "These guys, they don't stay blocked. They're athletic. They're explosive. They get off the ball probably as good as anybody in the league."
Also, the Eagles will likely rotate several defensive linemen, including rookie tackle Fletcher Cox, the 12th overall pick in April's draft. Seven linemen played at least 20 snaps against the Browns.
But there are ways for Cameron to keep some of Philadelphia's tricks in the bag. By using the no-huddle, the Ravens can keep the Eagles from rotating in fresh defensive linemen. And the wide-nine will at times open up wide inside running lanes for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
"It will be really hard to run our outside zone plays on them because the wide-nine is so hard to get around because they are so wide — they're cocked and they just come crashing down," guard Marshal Yanda said. "Well we're going to have a plan for that. Obviously, they're very good at it. … They're going to be fresh and healthy, but their main objective is to get after the passer."