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Commentary: Ravens' O-line, running game have to improve

Bryant McKinnie, apparently, was not the only problem on the offensive line.

The massive, much-maligned left tackle was inactive Sunday as recent acquistion Eugene Monroe got his first start. Perhaps the Ravens need to make four more trades.

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The line that struggled to open holes for Ravens running backs or adequately protect Joe Flacco over the first five weeks continued those trends during Baltimore's 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens rushed 22 times for 47 yards. They gained 26 yards in the second half on nine carries - which sounds awful until you realize it was a great improvement over the 21 yards they managed on 13 carries before halftime.

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"We've just got to execute," running back Ray Rice said.

It wasn't clear exactly who he wanted to execute.

For the season, the Ravens are averaging a meager 72.7 yards per game, gaining a stunningly low 2.7 yards per carry.

"It's always frustrating when you can't ... we weren't getting the run game going," center Gino Gradkowski said. "We weren't scoring. So, yeah, that's frustrating."

No one's more frustrated than Rice, who was held to 2 yards or fewer on each of his first eight carries. (Bernard Pierce had zero or negative yards on four of his six attempts).

"We would love to run the ball better. It's not something we plan on going out there and messing up," Rice said. "The run game definitely has to get better."

That's been said before. Like after the coaching staff abandoned the run in the second half of a loss at Buffalo in Week 4.

But after watching Sunday's game, it's a wonder the Ravens ever try to run it at all. They pay Joe Flacco $20 million per year to sling the ball and the only time Baltimore's offense looked any good at all on Sunday was in the fourth quarter once he started firing it downfield. He finished with 342 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Receiver Torrey Smith is the most dynamic player on the team and, finally all healthy, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss looked formidable, too, on Sunday. Even the ancient Dallas Clark had a great game.

Of course, the reason Flacco can't throw on every down is because he would be permanently imbedded into the turf. He was sacked five times, once causing a fumble that gave Green Bay a free field goal before halftime, as the Ravens' blocking made A.J. Hawk look like Lawrence Taylor. Flacco has been sacked 19 times this season and the number of times he's been hit must be triple that.

New left tackle Monroe said he felt comfortable and that he thought he communicated well with his linemates. He didn't offer his opinion on why the unit has struggled so.

"I really can't comment on that," he said. "I've been here for a week."

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He had plenty to say about the line's most glaring failure, however. That came midway through the second quarter when the Ravens trailed just 3-0 and appeared ready to score a go-ahead touchdown after securing a first-and-goal from the 4.

Three Rice runs produced 3 yards. The third down play actually included a holding penalty against Baltimore, but the Packers declined it. It was as if they were daring the Ravens to go for the touchdown.

The Ravens did go for it. It was the right move. You've got to be able to make one paltry yard on fourth down, particularly at home. But they did not. Pierce found no more daylight than Rice and was stopped for no gain.

"Any time you get down in the red zone, down to the goal line, you've got to get six [points]," Monroe said. "And we didn't. They put trust in us with that fourth down. We've got to make that happen."

They made nothing happen. Rice credited the Green Bay defense, but it could also have been taken as an indictment of the Ravens' line.

"They made good plays. They created piles and did what good goal-line defenses do," he said. "I never had a fair one-on-one shot with a guy. There was always two or three in the hole. That's a good job by them."

Now, about fixing it. It's doubtful there will be another trade for a former first-rounder in the prime of his career, like Monroe.

McKinnie, so important during the glorious playoff run last year, might never play for the team again. There has been speculation since Baltimore acquired Monroe that McKinnie will be traded. Of course, there's no ruling out the possibility of his returning to a reshuffled version of the line at some point if things don't improve.

The Ravens, of course, believe they have the personnel already in place to be a good offensive line. Perhaps they do. They just haven't been so far.

"I think it's just little things here and there that we need to clean up," Gradkowski said.

Monroe said the effort and desire are there.

"This is a group, you can see it fighting back at the end of the game, no one's giving up," he said. "Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants the run game to go."

It had better get going soon. The Ravens are 3-3. It'll take a minimum of nine or 10 wins to make the playoffs. And even in today's pass-crazy NFL, teams don't win games by gaining 47 yards on the ground.

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