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Ravens' O-line faces another test vs. Cowboys LBs

Ravens offensive tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele thought they had it tough last week.

It won't get any easier Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys come to town with outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

Last weekend, Oher and Osemele gave up four sacks and allowed eight quarterback hurries to Kansas City outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in the Ravens' 9-6 win.

So far this season, Ware and Spencer are playing better than the Chiefs' duo.

Through the Cowboys' first four games, they have combined for 46 tackles, seven sacks and pressured the quarterback 18 times. The only player probably more nervous than Oher and Osemele is Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

"They are very physical players," said Osemele, the rookie right tackle out of Iowa State. "Ware, everybody knows. He's obviously a guy who does it all. He has every move in the book. Spencer is a quicker guy, a quick burst guy, kind of similar to what I saw last week. Two good rush defensive ends, so obviously a really big challenge."

The Ravens have had these types of challenges before, and they didn't fare well on two other occasions against Philadelphia and Kansas City this season.

In Oher, the Ravens have a left tackle who seems more physically and mentally capable of playing on the right side. Osemele has strong physical and mental attributes, especially the long wing span, to play tackle, but needs to become faster and quicker to handle speed rushers.

Right now, he might be more effective at guard, but the Ravens want to keep him at tackle.

Dallas has the perfect complement in Ware and Spencer. Spencer is better against the run, but maybe it only appears that way because Ware might be the game's most feared pass rusher.

He is relentless trying to get to a quarterback and pursues running backs on the opposite side of the field with the same intensity.

"Two great pass rushers," Oher said. "DeMarcus Ware, one of the best in the business. Anthony Spencer, he's no slouch either. It's going to be a challenge."

"He does everything well," said Oher of Ware. "He gets after it. He has countless moves. And he does well with reading your technique. If your technique is bad, he's going to expose it. You just have to play fundamentally sound against him."

You also always have to know where he is on the field. The Cowboys line Ware up all over the field, and he has to be accounted for because he can wreck a plan and take over a game.

The Cowboys also like to stunt a lot with their front seven. The Ravens offensive line has had problems with these schemes, particularly Oher and left guard Ramon Harewood. Dallas's defense is coached by Rob Ryan, twin brother of formers Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

The Ryans like to blitz and bring pressure. If Rob Ryan watched video of last week's game against the Chiefs, he is going to throw all types of crazy things at the Ravens.

"They run a lot of stunts up front, they run a lot of pressures," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They mix the pressures. You really don't get the same pressures from one week to the next. And they mix the coverages behind the pressures. It's a package that we're familiar with; we've seen it."

"Yes, yes, they run the Bear defense," said Harbaugh in reference to the defense made famous by the Ryans' father, Buddy, when he was with the Chicago Bears in the mid 1980s. "The Ryan family package is in full bloom."

The Ravens might allow both Oher and Osemele to single block both Ware and Spencer early, and if that doesn't work, they probably will use a running back or the tight ends to chip block with the tackles.

Last week, the Ravens moved fullback Vonta Leach out on the edge as an H-back to help with the blocking, and that could be another option Sunday. The problem, though, is that if you take away skill-position players to block either Spencer or Ware, it takes one less receiver out of the routes.

The Ravens have to find some kind of balance.

They might also have to go with veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie, a starter last season, if Oher or Osemele struggle. McKinnie has played only sparingly this year, and the Ravens gave no indications they are willing to change the lineup despite the poor offensive effort against Kansas City.

"I really like where the offensive line is playing, and I really like where our young tackles play," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We're thrilled we have Bryant McKinnie here, and our line is getting better and better. We've gone against some good fronts, and we're just going to keep getting better. That's our plan. It's still early in the year, and I'm sure if we need him, he'll be ready to go."

Harbaugh, though, warned that allowing Flacco to be sacked multiple times is unacceptable.

"We're going to try to make it no sacks," Harbaugh said. "That's the goal. And there's a lot that goes into that, whether it's protection or the timing of the routes or guys getting open, or whatever it might be. We're not looking to accept any number of sacks, except for zero; that's the number we're shooting for."

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