Ravens finally find right combination on offensive line

It took the Ravens the entire season, but now they have the right players starting on the offensive line.



It took an injury to starter Jah Reid to get tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and center Matt Birk on the field for the first time for a full 60 minutes Sunday, but when it happened the Ravens bounced Indianapolis out of the playoffs with a 24-9 victory.

The group was so impressive that even Coach John Harbaugh, who had been reluctant to start McKinnie, had to admit it.


"I thought they played well," Harbaugh said. "To have two pass rushers like that coming off the edge, to control those guys for the most part throughout the game is a pretty incredible accomplishment."


And this should be the starting lineup for the rest of the playoffs. There should be no more dog house or excuses or egos getting in the way. The group that started Sunday gives the Ravens their best chance of winning.

Against the Colts, the Ravens had 441 yards in total offense including 172 rushing and an average carry of 5.4 yards. Running back Bernard Pierce had 103 yards rushing on 13 carries and Ray Rice had another 70 on 15 attempts.

More importantly, the Colts had just two quarterback pressures and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked only once. The Colts haven't had a good defense all season, but ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can still bring the heat. Mathis had the only sack.

The big question is whether the Ravens go back to the starting lineup of Oher and Osemele at the tackles, Yanda and Reid at the guards and Birk at center?

Please say no, say it ain't so.

"Nah, they can't," McKinnie said smugly. "Not if they watch the film."


You've got to love McKinnie right now. He came into training camp late, overweight and out of shape. And then the Ravens cut his salary by about $1 million, which caused McKinnie to pout and sulk, and not go hard in practice.

I don't blame him. If my bosses cut my salary, I might do the same.

McKinnie was then immediately sentenced to life in Harbaugh's doghouse even though Oher and Osemele constantly struggled against speed rushers.

But McKinnie played reasonably well last week against Cincinnati while the Ravens rested their starters, and the Ravens starting juggling the lineup Monday when Reid had problems with his toe.

"We kept it chilled," said Osemele, a rookie from Iowa State. "We didn't want it to get out that we were flip-flopping personnel. But if felt really good getting back at left guard. It was very natural and Matt Birk helped me with the calls. All I had to do was play."

No offense to Reid, but his feet are slow and he doesn't have the speed to make blocks into the second level. Osemele might be the team's most athletic offensive lineman and that long torso and long arms make him an attractive option to play either guard or tackle.


But with Osemele and McKinnie on the left side and Oher and Yanda on the other, the Ravens have more power and balance. Against the Colts, Osemele and McKinnie had some great double-team blocks.

There were several times when McKinnie blocked with Osemele and then scraped off to block another defensive player.

You could tell this group was in a groove because these guys were chuckling while smacking around the Colts.

"No, I wasn't shocked that I started because they had to watch the film from last week," McKinnie said. "I know how I played. I've been working with K.O. all year and told him that we could mash some people if we got out there together. I told them we could just blow people off the ball.

"If K.O. keeps getting his reps, I know he is going to be a good tackle," McKinnie said. "If he keeps getting his reps, he will become a great guard."

Maybe the Ravens coaching staff is listening now. It was early in the preseason when Osemele said he preferred to play guard instead of tackle because pass rushers in the NFL were too fast.


There is also enough evidence or film now to prove that Oher, who made his share of mistakes Sunday, is better on the right side than on the left because he doesn't have the finesse or body type to handle that position.

But this was never about Oher vs. McKinnie. It was always about the Ravens upgrading the offensive line overall. The weakest person in the middle right now appears to be Birk, but he can get help on both sides from Yanda or Osemele.

Just about all the starters on offense and defense want this group to start against Denver Saturday, and some of them didn't mind saying so after Sunday's game.

"They say they want to start the best five, and this is the best five," Osemele said.

McKinnie said: "I didn't start the last game against Denver but we'll have a different game plan for this one. It's like getting beat up in a fight. You want to go out and fight them again. I look forward to it. There can't be any changes now."

It's pretty much a slam dunk that this has to be the starting five because Birk, the elder statesman, gave his endorsement.


"It's a tough situation for them personally, but it's probably the best situation for us as an offense to have those five guys out there," Birk said.