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The Bills (and refs) frustrated the Ravens’ ground game last season. It’s on John Harbaugh’s mind.

In 2019, the Ravens set the NFL’s single-season rushing record. They ran for over 150 yards in 13 games. Two players finished with over 1,000 yards. But success didn’t always come easily.

In Week 14 last season, the Ravens escaped Buffalo with a 24-17 win — and just 118 rushing yards on 33 carries, the fewest they would finish with all year. Inconsistent execution in the Ravens’ ground game didn’t help matters. Neither did an athletic and well-schooled Bills front.

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But there was another factor that Ravens offensive linemen pointed to just two days after the win: the officiating. Buffalo was called for one defensive-holding penalty, and it was perhaps fortunate the count stopped there. A review of the game film revealed several plays in which Bills defensive linemen grabbed Ravens linemen as they either tried to pull or complete a second-level run block.

Maybe no example was more glaring than a fourth-quarter run by running back Mark Ingram II. After a shotgun snap to quarterback Lamar Jackson, center Patrick Mekari pulled right, only to have Buffalo defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who’d lined up between him and right guard Marshal Yanda, grab Mekari by the shoulder pads. Liuget didn’t let go, and he ended up dragging Mekari to the ground. Ingram finished with just 3 yards. No flag was thrown.

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“He was trying to pull. [Liuget] grabbed him and literally slung him to the ground,” left guard Bradley Bozeman told The Baltimore Sun not long after the game. “Like, it’s crap. But it’s part of the game we’re playing.”

“It’s a penalty,” Mekari said. “They can’t hold us, and the refs sometimes see it. Sometimes they don’t. But there’s nothing really you can much do about it. You’re not going to complain too much about it. You let the refs know, and if they see it, great. If they don’t see it, then move on to the next play and hope they see it next time.”

The Ravens said the Bills weren’t the first team to adopt the tactic; Bozeman said a player on an another team had “tackled” him at the goal line in a recent game. “As the weeks go on, as teams have a, I guess, harder time stopping us,” Mekari said, “they hold us.”

With the AFC East champion Bills set to host the Ravens again Saturday night in the AFC divisional round, the game’s officiating could take on outsize importance. The three main transgressors from the teams’ 2019 meeting are no longer in Buffalo — Liuget is a free agent, Jordan Phillips is with the Arizona Cardinals, and Star Lotulelei opted out of the 2020 season — and Eric Washington replaced Bill Teerlinck as defensive line coach after last year.

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But the Ravens remain a run-dominant offense, with schemes that often call on linemen to pull and climb to the second level. Asked Monday whether he’d addressed the officiating with the NFL, coach John Harbaugh said it was “probably just better that I stay out of it right now publicly.”

“There’s a lot of little things like that that are really week-to-week things that we may or may not talk to the league about,” Harbaugh said. “Different teams have different ways of doing things. I’ll probably just want to stay out of that conversation.”

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