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Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Ravens' line playing big in postseason

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The Baltimore Ravens had major problems on the offensive line for most of the second half of the 2012 season.

In one five-game stretch, including a three-game losing streak, they allowed 15 sacks. There was no consistency. The tackles were struggling. Joe Flacco was getting hit.

In the postseason, there has been little of that. Flacco has been sacked four times, with two of those actually on him. The improved play of the Baltimore line is a big reason why Flacco has been so good in the playoffs and why the Ravens are in Super Bowl XLVII.

The difference was a major shakeup, one that included moving veteran Bryant McKinnie in at left tackle and moving left tackle Michael Oher to the right side. Rookie Kelechi Osemele moved from right tackle, where he struggled, to left guard, where he has played well.

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The revamped line has protected Flacco so well he has been a deep-ball assassin. That takes time.

It has also opened holes well enough for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to run for over a combined 400 yards.

The question being asked now is this: What took so long?

Why did the Ravens wait to make the changes? Was it really just because left guard Jah Reid got hurt?

It's clear Oher is much more comfortable on the right side and McKinnie is an upgrade on the left. And Osemele has the look of becoming a big-time guard. Add in veteran center Matt Birk and All-Pro right guard Marsahl Yanda and you have the makings of a powerful, big unit that has meshed in the postseason.

McKinnie was the key. After starting the entire 2011 season, he came to camp late (back injury) and out of shape. That earned him a trip into coach John Harbaugh's doghouse. And, according to some Ravens players, that's a hard spot to leave.

Reid started the final seven games but missed the Colts wild-card game with a toe injury and then was put on IR the next week. That's why the Ravens made the moves in the playoffs -- even though McKinnie didn't even start a game in the regular season. They could have just replaced Reid with veteran Bobby Williams, but these moves seem to have worked.

The tape shows an improved group and one that is particularly upgraded at the tackle spots.

The two Denver games, a win by the Broncos in the regular season and the Ravens' double-overtime victory in the AFC Divisional Round, offer the best stories in pictures to show what the changes have meant.

In the Broncos' regular-season victory, the Ravens had 278 yards of offense, 222 passing yards and Flacco was sacked three times. It looked worse than that.

The line that started that day was Oher at left tackle, Reid at left guard, Birk at center, Williams at right guard (Yanda was hurt) and Osemele at right tackle. It was one giant turnstile.

The Broncos only had three sacks -- two on the final plays of the game while the Ravens were in scramble mode -- but they spent the day attacking Flacco. And Flacco spent the day throwing off his back foot and never looked comfortable. He was booed throughout the game and had a pick-six by Chris Harris.

Here's a look at a third-down play from that game in the third quarter that shows the heat on Flacco. It was third-and-11 and the Broncos put Von Miller (red circle) inside and stunted him on an X-cross with linebacker D.J. Williams. He came clean on Flacco and hit him, forced the pass to wobble in the air and fall to the ground. You can also see that Elvis Dumervil (blue circle) beat Osemele at right tackle.



Now take a look at the protection on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith in the playoff game. The blue circle shows McKinnie in a one-on-one battle against Dumervil, and he won big. The rest of the line slid to the right and did a great job. There isn't anybody near Flacco.


Here's a look at a 34-yard run by Ray Rice in the playoff game. McKinnie and Osemele got a great double-team block. That allowed Yanda to pull around and get a block on Wesley Woodyard to open up the crack for Rice to run. Rice's longest run in the first game was 11 yards and he had 38 total yards.



Here's a run play from the AFC Championship Game against New England, a different style of run. It was an 8-yard run by Rice. The key to the play was the trap block by Oher (blue circle) on Vince Wilfork to help create the hole. But Birk and Yanda did a great job of getting push to allow Oher around to get the block.



Next we have a play that shows the line holding up for a long time against the Patriots, so long that Flacco can dump off a pass to Rice, who snuck out of the backfield late.

On the play, Osemele (red circle) did a great job man-up on Wilfork, power against power. Oher (blue circle) was also one-on-one and did a nice job. Yanda picked up the blitzer and Birk handled Kyle Love (yellow circle) man-up. You can see Rice (black circle) snuck out and got open for the catch. That took a lot of time. The line did a heck of a job.



As you can see, the Ravens' line has really upped its game in the playoffs. The reshuffling has worked. Now comes another tough game, matching up against a tough San Francisco front. If the Baltimore line plays like it has in the postseason, Flacco and Rice could be in for big days.

And then comes this question, again: Why did John Harbaugh wait so long?


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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