Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 41-7 win over Texans.
There was a time earlier this season when Lamar Jackson made the Ravens offensive line look better than it really was, but those roles have reversed as the quarterback and his blockers have become more comfortable with one other.
The evidence was clear in the Ravens’ 41-7 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday when Jackson connected on a 15-yard touchdown pass to receiver Seth Roberts early in the second quarter. As he dropped back to pass, Jackson had enough time to pack a lunch, eat it and guzzle down a Diet Coke.
As he stepped up in the pocket, Jackson wasn’t touched. The Texans didn’t even get close enough to breathe on him.
It was that way all afternoon.
“They played a great game, very impressive,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the offensive line. “It was awesome, and they are playing at their highest level right now.”
As the city of Baltimore and the rest of the NFL gets submerged in Lamarmania, remember that an offensive line that was once considered a liability has become an asset during the team’s six game-winning streak.
Lost in the hysteria is a group of five offensive linemen named Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura and Bradley Bozeman who have all played pretty well.
On Sunday, Jackson dropped back to pass 24 times and was sacked only once and hurried on two other plays. For the season, Jackson has been sacked 19 times. At the beginning of the season, it was Jackson’s scrambling ability that gave him more time to pass.
Now, he’s just comfortable operating like a prototypical QB, stepping up or moving one step to the right or left to find open passing lanes. There were times against Houston when Jackson had no pressure for five, six or seven seconds.
That’s unheard of in the NFL. If a quarterback gets 2.5 to 3 seconds to pass, the line has done its job. The Texans weren’t known for having a great pass rush, especially without injured defensive end J.J. Watt, but the Ravens embarrassed them. They couldn’t get pressure even when they tried to blitz.
“It’s a mindset,” said Skura, a center. “I think we have that ability to prepare well throughout the week, and we’re doing a good job of being consistent and relying on our technique. There is no special formula, just a bunch of guys who like to play tough, aggressive football.”
There were questions about the offensive line heading into the season because only Yanda, a Pro Bowl right guard, and Stanley, a rising star at left tackle, had extensive playing experience as starters.
Skura, a fourth-year player, had only started for two seasons, and one of those was at guard. Both Brown, a right tackle, and Bozeman, a left guard, were entering their second seasons in the league.
Brown had trouble with speed rushers last season and Skura was considered too small. Bozeman was good as a straight-ahead run blocker, but was stiff pulling and pass blocking.
Apparently, these guys neither heard nor cared about the criticisms.
The Ravens are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points (34.1) and rushing yards (203.8) per game and No. 2 in total yards per game (428.6).
“Guys are playing well. Guys are complementing each other — working hard with each other,” Yanda said. “We have a good group of guys, hard-working guys who take it one day at a time. It’s been fun.”
The key is the scheme, one devised by offensive coordinator Greg Roman and installed by line coach Joe D’Alessandris. Unlike the old days, when linemen drove opposing players yards off the ball with single or combination blocking, the Ravens don’t need to be overwhelming at the point of attack.
Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden calls it a quick contact and cover-up strategy.
“I really don’t know what that scheme is, and I don’t understand how they attack, especially with the run-pass option plays,” said Ogden, the former Raven. “I didn’t understand any other way except to knock them off the ball 8 yards. You had the combination blocking, blocked them into the second level, and then the open guy scraped off and covered up.
“If you look at the overall group, they have several good players, but apparently understand this scheme and they do it well. They are pass-blocking well, and I guess the option plays with Lamar possibly pulling the handoff back and keeping it forces defenses to play them differently. I really like this new style. It seems like the players are having a lot of fun.”
Harbaugh and the players also give a lot of credit to D’Alessandris. At age 65, he’s an old-school assistant who grew up working in the steel mines of Pennsylvania.
“Joe D’Alessandris does a great job on it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a great football coach. It starts with that. Joe is old school. He teaches techniques the way that they’ve been taught for a long time, proven stuff, and he does it the right way.
“And we have a bunch of guys that love to work, very talented guys, very physical guys. The last part is accountability. Those guys have all stayed together. They’ve all been out there practicing, and that’s how you improve.”
The Ravens just mash teams physically. There are few teams in the league that can close a game like they can, when they put together one of those seven- or eight-minute drives in the fourth quarter to protect a lead.
First, it’s running back Mark Ingram II pounding away, and then it’s Gus Edwards. It’s part of D’Alessandris’ psyche.
“In this scheme, you’re getting a lot of motion, added blockers and you’re keeping defenses off balance,” Skura said. “In the fourth period, we love having the ball in our hands. We love being able to control people at the line of scrimmage and wearing them down.
“We have that same mentality as the coach. It’s that lunch-pail mentality where you go to work every day, and it’s not always fun and finesse. But you’ve got to grind, and it plays off in the third and fourth quarter when the defense is tired and we’re rolling along with tons of energy. We’ve taken on that mindset.”