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Why this season will be critical for the Ravens offensive line

Last season’s Super Bowl opponents were surprisingly similar. The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles both went 16-3, scored 546 points and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But there was another, more important commonality that was integral to their success: a dominant offensive line.

Although a lot has changed in football over the decades, there is little argument to say that having a great offensive line does much. Of the 20 teams to have played in the last 10 Super Bowls, 12 of them had an offensive line that finished in the top 10 in Pro Football Focus’ annual rankings. Last season, the Eagles’ offensive line was the best in the NFL, by PFF, while the Chiefs were fourth.

The Ravens weren’t far behind: PFF ranked them the second-best offensive line in the league, and for good reason. In addition to being the least penalized unit in the NFL, All-Pro let tackle Ronnie Stanley return in Week 5 after a devastating ankle injury that cost him most of 2021 and half of 2020 was an immediate boost as it only allowed one bag. and 16 total pressures in 298 pass blocks during the regular season. The emergence of first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum and fourth-year left guard Ben Powers also paid off, with Linderbaum ranked by PFF as the fourth-best run blocker among centers and Powers ranked second in pass blocking. the highest among the guards.

Although Powers left in free agency for the Denver Broncos in March, Baltimore once again believes it has one of the best offensive lines in the league. And while the Ravens have met their biggest needs this offseason — signing quarterback Lamar Jackson to an extension, adding wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers, and signing cornerback Rock Ya-Sin — this season will be important for men. before for several reasons.

First, the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, and therefore a new scheme.

Under former coordinator Greg Roman, Baltimore had a heavy offense that relied on running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, as well as Jackson. Already this offseason, Monken has spoken about the need for more dynamic play calls to keep up with teams like the Chiefs and rival AFC North Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson noted last week that “running can only take you so far.”

Make no mistake, Baltimore is still going to run the ball a lot. But pass blocking will be essential, if only to keep his $260 million quarterback on his feet. Jackson has missed 11 games over the past two seasons, including a preliminary round loss to the Bengals in January, due to injury.

The philosophy of veteran and respected offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris may not be different, but there will be at least some adjustments.

“It was a good transition,” Linderbaum said last week. “[Monken’s] do a really good job of helping guys, keeping the verbiage of things similar. There are small tweaks here and there.

One of those changes is who will take over at left guard.

The four players coach John Harbaugh mentioned as possibilities are Patrick Mekari, Ben Cleveland, John Simpson and Daniel Faalele. However, Mekari’s versatility could make him more valuable as a swing tackle than an all-around starter, while Faalele has never played guard in the NFL and is better suited to stay at tackle. The Ravens also drafted Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and signed former Chicago Bears center and Owings Mills native Sam Mustipher, though the former is more of a draft and the latter is expected to support Linderbaum.

That likely means competition this summer will come down to Cleveland and Simpson, who have both been inconsistent.

Still, Harbaugh has liked what he’s seen from Simpson in the voluntary offseason program so far. The 2020 fourth-round pick who spent his first three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders is eager for a fresh start.

“[Simpson’s] talented, move his feet,” Harbaugh said last week. “He moves his feet really well, works his balance and his platform a bit, and I think [he’s] getting better every day. And [he’s] a tall and strong guy, [a] good athlete. [I’m] excited about him.

While left guard isn’t the most important position on the line — it’s usually where teams hide their weakest blocker because the center can help steal or double the team — it’s not. not the only position the Ravens have to worry about up front.

Although starting tackles Stanley and Moses are both signed through at least the 2024 season, several other linemen are expected to hit unrestricted free agency next year or the year after, including Simpson (2024) , Cleveland (2025), Mekari (2025) and Kevin Zeitler (2024), as well as guard Pat Ricard (2025).

While rookie Andrew Vorhees could take over as starting left guard as early as next season after recovering from a torn ACL he suffered at NFL reconnaissance reaper, there are still plenty of question marks about the future inside the offensive line. Cleveland has played just 21 games in two seasons after being drafted in the third round, and Zeitler, who turns 34 next March, could decide whether to go to free agency or retire.

In other words, this could be a breakthrough season for much of what should be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Their cohesion, growth and success would go a long way towards the success of the Ravens.

“[The] The Ravens offensive line is going to be [the] Ravens offensive line,” Linderbaum said. “Get off the ball, push people away.

The Ravens will have to be Super Bowl contenders.


denverpost sports

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