During the Ravens' third consecutive loss Sunday, the Cleveland Browns sacked quarterback Joe Flacco five times.
That tied a season-high, matched by the five times Flacco was sacked in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, and reversed a recent trend in which pass protection had been upgraded. The unit had given up just one sack in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to the bye week.
Was all of this attributable to breakdowns from left tackle Eugene Monroe, left guard A.Q. Shipley, center Gino Gradkowski, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher?
Not according to coach John Harbaugh, who stuck up for the line and said the issues were a collective problem.
“I feel like our offensive line blocked a lot better than the result might have shown in terms of number of yards,” Harbaugh said Monday. “When you watch the tape, there are a lot of really good blocks going on there.”
That comment raised a few eyebrows, considering the Ravens also rushed for 1.6 yards per carry. Three-time Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice finished with 17 yards on 11 carries, and Flacco was the team's leading rusher with 25 yards.
In reviewing the game on NFL Game Rewind, though, it's evident that the protection breakdowns are shared by the line, the running backs, tight ends, and Flacco occasionally holding onto the football too long or inadvertently running into pressure.
"To organize the pass protection is the most complicated part of it," Harbaugh said. "It’s not just the offensive line; our offensive line blocked well. When you see it on tape, you’d have to say that. It’s a team effort. It’s running backs, it’s quarterbacks, it’s wide receivers, it’s everybody."
Safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Chris Owens ran into the backfield for two of the Browns' five sacks.
During the first quarter, outside linebacker Quentin Groves simply ran around Oher while rushing from a two-point stance with a speed rush for the Browns' first sack. Oher never got a good punch on Groves and didn't match his superior quickness off of the snap.
On Owens' sack in the second quarter, he was untouched as Rice blocked blitzing linebacker Craig Robertson. Yanda was the closest lineman to Owens, while Oher was occupied on that side by speedy rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Later in the quarter, defensive end Armonty Bryant was being blocked by Oher before disengaging from the block as Flacco scrambled right into him for the sack.
In the third quarter, Ward sacked Flacco up the middle on a safety blitz after Rice blocked inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Ward was untouched after running by tight end Dallas Clark while he entered his pattern.
In the fourth quarter, Flacco was sacked again by Bryant, but it was negated by a defensive holding penalty on the Browns' Ward. Bryant beat Shipley on the play.
On the same drive, Flacco was sacked by Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard. Sheard rushed upfield against Oher, was slowed down initially and then disengaged and sacked Flacco as the quarterback tried to scramble up the middle.
"The quarterbacks have got to get the ball out, and they’ve got to find ways to protect themselves with ‘hot’ throws and things like that, too," Harbaugh said. "Joe does a good job of that. To get to your question, yes, we need Joe to take fewer hits, and we’re going to continue to chase that. We’ll do that by getting the ball out quickly, continuing to work on our technique in pass protection, and picking up blitzes."
The Ravens' blocking miscues can't all be chalked up to the offensive line struggling against an aggressive Browns defense coached by Ray Horton.
"The biggest issue that we had in pass protection was the pressures," Harbaugh said. "I think two of them were attributable to the offensive line, where we just didn’t make the right adjustment, pass it off the right way and get the protection made.
"Two of the other pressures, one of them should have been thrown and one of them should have been blocked by somebody else. The other one, somebody just got beat one-on-one when it wasn’t a pressure. That’s the nature of it, and we’ve got to continue to get better there.”