A year ago at this time, the Ravens had the league’s best rushing attack and were in the midst of their most dominant stretch of a 14-2 season.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram ran roughshod through opposing defenses with their option-based run game. The three-headed monster at tight end of Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst proved to be Jackson’s safety blanket in the pass game. Final scores were merely a formality, as the Ravens bludgeoned teams week in and week out.
And at the forefront of all of that success was the offensive line.
Since that time, though, the Ravens have lost All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury. All-Pro right guard and franchise icon Marshal Yanda retired in the offseason. Boyle, the team’s best blocking tight end, recently suffered a season-ending knee injury. Even Yanda’s replacement, rookie guard Tyre Phillips, is on injured reserve (though he’s scheduled to return) with an ankle injury.
Now, the Ravens are faced with coming up with a solution to their offensive line problems. But that doesn’t mean they’ll come out and state it directly.
“We’ll just explore whatever we look at,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “That’ll be part of the process in terms of what we do this next game. I’m probably not going to be talking too much about that this week; there’s really no reason to do that. But they did a pretty good job — it’s on the tape. So, we’ll just see what we do. I would just say this: We’re a work in progress right now with the injuries in the offensive line, and we’ll be working on it.”
Without the three best pound-for-pound blockers on the team, there’s naturally been some missteps along the way. But what they haven’t been able to account for is poor production elsewhere.
Center Matt Skura, who was lost last season to a massive knee injury, returned quicker than anyone expected in a welcome surprise for the offensive line. But in the last two weeks, Skura’s snaps have been a problem — though last Sunday’s game was played in the driving wind and rain. It’s not unreasonable to assume he has a short lease for Sunday’s game, if his snaps continue to be a problem.
Elsewhere on the line, right tackle D.J. Fluker, who entered Sunday’s game after Orlando Brown Jr.’s move to left tackle, had to be replaced midway through the game. He was replaced by Patrick Mekari, who moved over from right guard. Ben Powers took over at right guard for Mekari.
Any team in the league would love to have consistency at the offensive line position. For the Ravens, that’s just not a luxury they’re afforded at the moment, and for the rest of the season.
“You’d rather have your five guys locked in from the beginning,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly, you’d rather have that — there’s no question about it. I don’t think there are too many teams that have had that this year. I’m sure that the teams that have had that, or have had the least issues, probably (have) the most success.”
Through nine games, Jackson has been sacked 23 times, 13th worst in the league. But on the ground, the Ravens are still thriving.
They’ve run for 164 yards per game, second-most in the league behind the Cardinals. Four rushers on the team (Jackson, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram) all have at least 230 yards and two touchdowns.
But through more than half of 2020, as could be expected, the line hasn’t been up to the standard they were at least year. And over the final seven regular season games, though whatever musical chairs they need to play to find the right combination, the sooner they can figure it out, will be for the better.
“Our guys have been playing pretty good,” Jackson said. “I’m confident in our line — 100 percent confident. We’ve got those NFL linemen for a reason. Those guys (work) their tail off. They want to win games — I know that for a fact. We just have to keep stamping stuff and keep it going. They’re doing good so far.”