There was a bit of caution in Marshal Yanda's optimism.
Eight days after a mediocre showing in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens offensive line fared much better in the team's 27-12 loss to the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night. But Yanda, the starting right guard who earned a Pro Bowl invitation last season, said there's no reason to get giddy just yet.
“We're just trying to play good football,” Yanda said. “We're worried about the sacks, but right now, it's not a sack battle. It's more about guys getting better and trying to get the offense rolling. I thought we did better things tonight. I thought we looked a little sharper. I think we still need to finish in the red zone, but we looked better. So we took a step forward.”
For the second straight game, the Ravens started Michael Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle despite the presence of left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Matt Birk returned from back spasms to replace rookie Gino Gradkowski at center.
That lineup appeared to work well. Behind that grouping, quarterback Joe Flacco did not get sacked once until the second play of the second quarter when running back Anthony Allen failed to pick up Lions free safety John Wendling on a blitz off the left side. That miscue ended the offense's drive and forced the team to settle for a 50-yard field goal from rookie kicker Justin Tucker 54 seconds into the period.
It was quite a departure from the 31-17 victory over the Falcons on Aug. 9. That night, Flacco was sacked once each by defensive end Kroy Biermann and inside linebacker Akeem Dent and hit by outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
Birk said the offensive line felt more at ease with the blocking schemes after wrapping up training camp Wednesday, but the unit wasn't entirely sure until it played Friday night.
“There is no substituting game experience,” Birk said. “You can practice a lot — and we're lucky to go against a great defense every day — but game situations are paramount. That's where you get all the situations and all the ebbs and flows. You can't substitute that, and you can't replicate it in practice. It's so important to get these games and have everybody get those reps as an entire offensive unit, obviously, so we can all get it turned up for the regular season.”
Before the game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Detroit's defensive line would present his team with some challenges.
“This front line is so physical,” Harbaugh said. “They are so deep, they are so talented, and really, their whole football team is when you look at them. They are just a real physical, talented football team. It's going to be a big challenge for us. I'm pretty sure, knowing that team's personality, they are going to try to come in here and make a statement, even though it's a preseason [game].”
To be fair, however, there is still room for improvement. Oher was flagged for holding on second-and-goal from Detroit's 7-yard line that contributed to the Ravens relying on Billy Cundiff for a 33-yard field goal that gave the team a short-lived 3-0 lead with 4:50 left in the first quarter.
With Tyrod Taylor under center for the offense's first full series of the second quarter, Osemele was guilty of flopping on defensive end Lawrence Jackson after Osemele had already pushed him to the turf, drawing an unnecessary-roughness penalty that was declined.
With the starters expected to play just one more game in the preseason before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10, Oher said the time to smooth out the edges is now.
“We're definitely starting to come together,” he said. “We're still learning and guys are still getting used to things. We're getting better every day.”