In late September, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh stood up in front of reporters gathered at the castle in Owings Mills and was very frank with his thoughts on the offensive line.
Suffering a loss to the Buffalo Bills, Harbaugh told members of the media the day after, “the whole O-line is disappointing right now.”
He also chided the pass-blocking as “unacceptable” and lamented the fact that Gino Gradkowski‘s transition to the starting center role was an issue because of calls at the line of scrimmage and protection up the middle.
So color me absolutely shocked when yesterday afternoon, Harbaugh took his place at the podium, in front of the same media members and announced that the offensive line “blocked a lot of things really well yesterday.”
Huh? They did?
I understand the “coach speak” aspect of being head coach, but enough is enough. This line hasn’t been good enough to block for a high school quarterback this season.
They haven’t blocked well enough to generate anything in the run game; averaging just 2.8 yards on the ground per carry, a league worst. The Browns were in the Ravens backfield before Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce could even find a hole to run through and make a move in space.
They haven’t been able to keep Joe Flacco‘s jersey clean and his play has suffered for it. He was sacked five times and hit another eight against Cleveland. Flacco can’t carry this offense himself and the fact he’s constantly scrambling for his life on every passing down doesn’t give him an opportunity to make plays downfield.
Harbaugh envisions this offense as a whole taking on new roles, meaning more three-wide receiver sets to take advantage of a secondary and spread things out. You leave things in Flacco’s hands, but if he’s constantly being swarmed every time he drops back, it doesn’t really matter.
But the coach speak on how well the line played just doesn’t jive. Marshal Yanda, a pro bowl guard with a nasty streak has struggled all season long with protection. A.Q. Shipley who now starts for the injured Kelechi Osemele, was average but he looks slow and doesn’t use his feet well. Michael Oher, in a contract year, is struggling with a sprained ankle and hasn’t played well since retuning to his natural position at right tackle.
Harbaugh had other thoughts, saying Shipley played well, calling him a pit bull and that the coaching staff was pleased with the way he played.
Despite the concerns about a lack of a running game, Harbaugh doesn’t seem worried, in fact, he thinks progress has actually been made.
“I feel like our offensive line blocked a lot better than the result might have shown in terms of number of yards. When you watch the tape, there are a lot of really good blocks going on there. There were a couple of plays where at the point of attack we had a look that we really didn’t need to be running against. That’s part of the process as far as [how] we develop this offense. We’ve got to get good enough to try not to run into those. You’re going to have a couple of them, and there are a couple of them that we blocked really well. So, that’s our challenge right now. We all see it, and that’s where we’ve got to get.”
When it comes to the zone-blocking scheme that has been criticized, Harbaugh doesn’t seem very concerned about that either, and to a certain extent, he’s right.
The Ravens have offensive lineman who are athletic enough to block down or run counters where they can attack one area and get to the next level of a defense. Despite that, it just hasn’t worked. The line gets outworked and looks lost quite often.
It’s gotten so bad, the Ravens even tried to run the offense from a pistol-formation, and that didn’t work well either. However, with how bad the offense has struggled, fans could see this scheme more often in the last eight games of the season.
According to Matt Vensel, they ran the formation five times and gained just five yards. Back to the drawing board, John.
This line is playing as poorly as it did in the loss to Buffalo, but the coaching staff sees it differently. After all, they’re the coaches and we blog from our couch.
It doesn’t take a genius to see though, for whatever reason, they just aren’t getting it done this season and time has just about run out.