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Ravens offensive line finds its footing in time to open up running game

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, center, looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, center, looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Rookie offensive linemen James Hurst and John Urschel made their first starts since Week 7 Sunday with the Ravens' playoff fate on the line, and both the rookies and their coaches were confident the pair could handle the moment.

That trust was rewarded in a 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns when, as they've done in so many other home wins, the Ravens' offensive line made its best blocks in the fourth quarter as the offense wound down the clock for the team's 10th win of the season.

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"I think that, obviously, we fought and kind of stalled through three quarters, but the good thing was the fourth quarter came and we were clicking," Pro Bowl offensive lineman Marshal Yanda said. "Everybody [was] blocking on the same page, and we got it together when we needed to. We didn't have too much time left to get it rolling, but the good thing was everybody stepped up."

With right tackle Rick Wagner on injured reserve with a Lisfranc sprain in his foot and left tackle Eugene Monroe inactive with an ankle injury suffered last Sunday, the Ravens opened the game with Urschel at right guard, Hurst at left tackle and Yanda at right tackle.

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Urschel started two games earlier this season in place of left guard Kelechi Osemele, while Hurst had four starts under his belt in place of Monroe. But add in Yanda at right tackle — a position he hasn't played since 2010 — and the Ravens had their fourth starting offensive line combination of the year.

"This start, there was something big on the line, and the fact that they trusted us with that responsibility means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to James," Urschel said.

The entire line took time to mesh, but Flacco was sacked once on a scramble and hit only three times. The Ravens finished with 129 yards on 28 carries against the Browns' 32nd-ranked run defense, which schemed against the Ravens' seventh-ranked rushing attack.

"They were stacking the box," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "[Browns safety] Jim Leonhard was basically playing defensive tackle in there a lot of times to stop the run, and did a good job, but I thought our guys … just kind of stuck with it and did a heck of a job."

It took two explosive plays involving quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Torrey Smith to open up the running game.

To that point, the Ravens had 18 rushes for 54 yards, with a 32-yard run by running back Justin Forsett representing most of that. Once the Ravens beat then with a 53-yard play-action pass to Smith, the Browns backed off and the Ravens ran with ease.

Forsett began the next drive with a 27-yard run to the right side, then added a 26-yard run on the team's final drive as part of a 77-yard fourth quarter rushing attack for the team.

That the Ravens did the majority of their damage running the ball in the fourth quarter is nothing new. Of the team's 2,019 total rushing yards, nearly 38 percent (763 yards) came in the fourth quarter as the team sought to close out games. Forsett's two 20-plus yard runs in the fourth quarter were the team's 11th and 12th of the season in the final quarter. They had 12 combined over the first three quarters all season.

"It's something we talked about all season long, that if we get a slow start, we just stick with it, [and] eventually we're going to crack some big ones," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "We feel like we can wear down a defense, and eventually like today, get some big runs. For [offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak] and [Harbaugh] to stick with us and have confidence that it's going to come, that means a lot."

"That's really the whole scheme of the offense — we're going to make them bend the whole game, and make them break at the end," rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore said. "That's something we really pride ourselves on, getting them to break when it matters most."

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