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The Ravens’ lack of athleticism in the trenches could come back to bite them again | COMMENTARY

As the Ravens search for a wide receiver and inside and outside linebackers during the offseason, another priority is building athleticism on the interior of the offensive and defensive lines.

Those areas of deficiency have been well-hidden during the past two regular seasons, but were clearly evident in playoff losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans.

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The problem isn’t as glaring on offense because the Ravens are run-oriented and have a downhill, smash-mouth style. But it’s different on defense because the Ravens haven’t had a consistent pass rush.

The Ravens had 37 sacks last year, No. 21 in the NFL, but a lot of those were manufactured from the pressure schemes designed by coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. They got virtually no pressure from the inside.

Tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce combined for 69 tackles but only 1½ sacks. The Ravens’ other top defensive lineman, end Chris Wormley, had 33 tackles and 1½ sacks. At least Williams and Pierce are run-stoppers. Wormley has no specialty.

The Ravens need more playmakers on their defensive front. They need players who can play either get sacks or make the quarterback uncomfortable by forcing him to move or step up in the pocket.

The Ravens haven’t signed a player like that in years.

Other teams have them. The Houston Texans have defensive lineman D.J. Reader, who at 6 feet 3 and 347 pounds can play either end or nose tackle.

The Titans have two in tackle Jeffery Simmons and end Jurrell Casey. If you are looking for a smaller version, try Los Angeles Rams end-tackle Aaron Donald.

The Ravens have no one.

It’s disappointing because the Ravens had the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense, averaging 33.2 points and 206 rushing yards a game. They very seldom trailed and often forced opponents out of their base offense, and the Ravens would counter with more defensive backs or linebackers.

But against Tennessee, the Ravens couldn’t stop the Titans’ running game, so it didn’t matter. But now it’s time to fix the problem.

The Ravens have a similar problem on offense.

Their philosophy is simple. They want to pound the ball, spread the field with the option running of quarterback Lamar Jackson and then go to the play-action passing game. That’s in a perfect world.

When they aren’t winning, the offensive line gets exposed. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, right guard Marshal Yanda and center Matt Skura are complete players who can go forward as well as backward, but maulers like right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard Bradley Bozeman struggle in pass protection.

Backup center Patrick Mekari, a rookie who started for the injured Skura for the last four games of the season, struggled in all areas. Against the Titans, the Ravens had trouble getting to and holding blocks on fast linebackers like Rashaan Evans and David Long Jr.

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Somewhere in the draft or free agency, the Ravens might be able to find more athletic offensive linemen who can get into the open field on screen passes, sweeps or plays that require linemen to work deep into the second level.

During the past two seasons, the Ravens have gotten away with a lack of athleticism in the trenches, except in the postseason. That’s when the good coaches find weaknesses and exploit them.

Just ask the Ravens.

When they have to play catch-up, their lack of versatility and athleticism in the trenches comes back to bite them.

It’s on both sides of the ball.

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