Ravens offensive line continues to work through its struggles
By By Aaron Wilson and The Baltimore Sun
Oct 06, 2013 | 9:16 PM
|MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie might have played his last game as a starter on the offensive line on Sunday.
McKinnie's pass-blocking breakdowns against the Miami Dolphins were part of a chaotic game for a Ravens' offensive line that eventually overcame miscues and back spasms to left guard Kelechi Osemele in a 26-23 win at Sun Life Stadium.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked twice and hit six times as he was frequently battered and hurried in the win.
The Ravens inserted backup center A.Q. Shipley in the first quarter in place of Osemele, who was hampered by back spasms. The offensive line scrambled to provide enough protection and open up holes for the running game. However, the group struggled at times to provide enough protection for Flacco.
"Joe's no soft guy, that's for sure," Ravens center Gino Gradkowski said. "He shows his toughness all the time, but we need to keep him cleaner than that."
The worst moment for the offensive line unfolded in the fourth quarter when rookie defensive end Dion Jordan burst past past McKinnie to disrupt Flacco's passing motion. That caused Flacco's pass intended for Deonte Thompson to turn into a floater intercepted by safety Reshad Jones and returned 25 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 8 minutes, 03 seconds left in the game.
McKinnie struggled mightily against the Dolphins' pass rushers, whiffing in the second quarter on a sack by outside linebacker Koa Misi.
"We know we have to work on some things protection-wise," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to be a good pass-protection team, I guarantee you that."
The Ravens acquired a potential replacement for McKinnie at left tackle on Thursday when they traded for Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.
Monroe was a healthy scratch Sunday as he continues absorbing the playbook, but it appears McKinnie is operating on borrowed time. The Ravens didn't land a younger, more athletic offensive tackle to not play him. McKinnie, 34, is in limbo and could either be traded or benched.
"I just have to showcase what I can do, that I can still play," McKinnie said. "We don't know what's going to happen. Whatever the situation is, I'll be ready, whether it's me going to another team or staying here.
"There's nothing I can really do about it, so I'll just play and wait to find out what's the scenario. I can't let it affect me."
Shipley wasn't fazed by being thrust into the lineup when Osemele left the game after the first series due to back spasms he first experienced prior to kickoff.
Shipley had barely practiced at guard, a position he last played in a game when he was with the Indianapolis Colts last season.
"For A.Q. running in there, obviously he did a good job," Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. "That's tough to do. He was thrown in there and did a good job being the next man up: 'No excuses, just play.' He did a very good job. We did what we needed to do to win the game."
Shipley held his own against a stout Miami defensive front headlined by huge nose tackle Paul Soliai and former Maryland defensive tackle Randy Starks, the Dolphins' franchise player.
"It's been my career so far, jumping in when I'm needed," Shipley said. "I was used to the pressure situation. I haven't really gotten many reps in practice at guard, but I know the offense and was ready to roll.
"That's a good defense. Soliai is a monster. I thought I played pretty well for the most part. I got beat some times, don't get me wrong. For the situation I was thrown into, I thought it was pretty good."
Despite the unfamiliarity, McKinnie said he and Shipley quickly grew accustomed to playing next to each other and didn't have too many problems communicating.
"It was really last-minute, and I had never even taken a snap with him next to me before," McKinnie said. "We just tried to get a feel for how each other plays. You have to adjust real quick."
And the Ravens' line could have a new starting left tackle as soon as next week against the Green Bay Packers depending on how quickly Monroe gets acclimated.
"I'm getting it as fast as I can, and it's coming along," Monroe said. "It [stinks] not playing. You always want to be on the field and experience a win and play a part in it. I'm going to keep working and have my opportunity come sooner than later."