BALTIMORE - Neutralizing a capable Indianapolis Colts pass rush while opening holes for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, the Baltimore Ravens' reshuffled offensive line paved the way for 441 yards of total offense amid the team's 24-9 victory over the Colts in Sunday's AFC Wild Card matchup.
With starting left guard Jah Reid sidelined by a toe injury, Bryant McKinnie started at left tackle, Michael Oher moved from left tackle to right tackle and right tackle Kelechi Osemele slid inside to left guard.
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said he thought the reshuffled unit "played really well."
The offensive line limited the Colts to just one sack and helped spring the combination of Rice and Pierce for a combined 172 yards on the ground.
"I think it's a credit to all those guys," Harbaugh said. "I think it's a credit to [offensive line coach] Andy Moeller. The fact that 'KO' [Kelechi Osemele] could move into guard so Mike [Oher] could flip over to the right side and that Bryant McKinnie could step in there and play as well as he did. ... Those guys did a great job."
The offensive line had been a consistent area of concern throughout the regular season.
Oher allowed an AFC-high 10 sacks, Osemele yielded seven sacks and the team had a revolving door at left guard - with Ramon Harewood, Bobbie Williams and Reid each starting multiple games and each struggling.
Meanwhile, McKinnie had been relegated to the bench just a year after starting all 16 games at left tackle. But, despite off-the-field issues and being perceived as a lackadaisical run blocker at times, McKinnie is still regarded as arguably the team's top pass blocker.
And with Reid out, McKinnie was inserted into the starting lineup, Oher was moved back to right tackle - where he spent two of his first three NFL seasons - and Osemele shifted to left guard - a position that many see as the best fit for him long-term.
"I think the offensive line did pretty good today," McKinnie said. "Everyone did a great job. The communication was great."
Of reshuffling the line, center Matt Birk said: "It wasn't that tough."
"You've got pros on our offensive line like 'KO' [Kelechi Osemele] and Mike [Oher]," Birk said. "They got moved around. Those are the guys it's probably difficult on, but those guys are team players. It's a tough situation for them personally, but it's the best situation for us as an offense to have those five guys out there."
Asked whether this combination will stay intact even once Reid returns from his toe injury, McKinnie said: "I guess so."
BIG DAY FOR PIERCE: Earlier in the week, Harbaugh said the Ravens had viewed Pierce as a first-round talent when they selected him in the third round of April's NFL draft. Sunday, Pierce continued to show flashes of that "first-round" talent.
The physical and athletic rookie from Temple racked up 103 yards on 13 carries, including 66 yards on eight carries during the second half.
He had a 43-yard run during the early part of the fourth quarter to help set up an 18-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin that stretched Baltimore's lead to 24-9.
The 43-yard burst was one of three Pierce runs Sunday that produced gains of 13 yards or more.
He averaged 7.9 yards per carry Sunday.
"He played great," Boldin said. "He's a physical guy, a guy that can move the pile as well as break big runs. I think he's an added dimension to our offense."
Pierce has seen a steadily increasing workload during the second half of the season while working behind Rice.
He carried the ball just 23 times in the Ravens' first seven games, but has 98 carries in the last 10 games, including 13 carries or more each of the last three weeks.
Rice (1,143 yards, nine TDs) and Pierce (532 yards, one TD) rushed for a combined 1,675 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season.
"We think we have two good guys that can play. ... I like both our backs a lot," Harbaugh said.
ELLERBE INJURED: Starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe left the game late in the fourth quarter after suffering a sprained right ankle, but he returned to the game shortly thereafter.
"Yeah, I'm all right. I'm good," Ellerbe said.
Harbaugh sounded more unsure regarding the severity of Ellerbe's injury.
"I don't know how serious it is," Harbaugh said. "We'll have to see."
Ellerbe had nine tackles Sunday. He had 92 tackles and four-and-a-half sacks during the regular season.
POLLARD BACK IN ACTION: Safety Bernard Pollard had four tackles and two pass deflections in his first action since aggravating a pre-existing rib injury in Week 14, an ailment Pollard's dealt with since the second game of the season.
"I'm all right," Pollard said with a smile. "Coming back after missing three games I caught myself winded trying to get my legs back under me, but that's fine. It's not about me. We just have to continue to play ball."
Pollard had a team-high 98 tackles during the regular season despite missing the last three games.
POSTSEASON SUCCESS: With Sunday's win against the Colts, the Ravens have now won at least one playoff game in each of the five seasons since Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008.
Harbaugh is the first head coach in NFL history (since the 1970 merger) to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.
Baltimore is 11-7 in its all-time playoff history, including 6-4 under Harbaugh.