Dec 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; A view of the pocket as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) passes while tackle Eugene Monroe (60) and Baltimore Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele (72) and guard Marshal Yanda (73) and tackle Ricky Wagner (71) block in the first quarter of game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
As the Baltimore Ravens commence their annual training camp, they do so with incredibly high expectations. After all, this is a team that came oh-so-close to the AFC Championship game last season, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots by a mere 4 points.
This season, the Ravens have shored up their areas of weakness from last season (cornerback, safety, tight end) and bolstered the roster in areas of strength as well (running back, wide receiver, linebacker). Honestly, anything less than a deep playoff run will be a disappointment.
One thing that hasn’t changed much on this Ravens’ squad is also the thing that didn’t need to change much. The offensive line was the team’s biggest strength in 2014, and it continues unchanged in 2015 for the first time in team history.
The o-line, which was the catalyst for failure in 2013, was absolutely the catalyst for success in 2014. Joe Flacco went from absorbing 48 sacks for a loss of 324 yards in 2013 to taking only 19 last season, for a loss of 167 yards.
Obviously, that led to a big uptick in numbers for the veteran QB. Flacco completed 362 of 614 passes (59%) for 3,912 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions in 2013. With his improved protection, Flacco completed 344 of 554 passes (62.1%) for 3,986 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 2014.
The running game was a major benefactor of the improved o-line play as well. The Ravens ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2014 with 126.2, racking up 2,019 yards total on the ground. In 2013, they could only muster 1,328. Ray Rice “led” the team in rushing yards that year with 660. Justin Forsett had 1,266 last season.
It all added up to the NFL’s 12th best 2014 offense, just one season after ranking 29th. This was an amazing transformation that took place thanks to a variety of changes. The implementation of Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme, picking up Jeremy Zuttah in free agency, the return of Kelechi Osemele, and the emergence of Rick Wagner all played a part.
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The Ravens starting offensive line is composed of Pro Football Focus’ third best right tackle (Wagner), first and sixth best guards (Marshal Yanda, Osemele), and 17th best center (Zuttah). Eugene Monroe struggled with injuries and consistency, landing as only the 63rd best tackle, but is only one year removed from ranking 12th.
With the entire line intact and healthy (or close to being healthy), 2015 holds similar promise. The biggest question mark is how the team will transition from the loss of Gary Kubiak. The Ravens are retaining last year’s scheme, so hopefully the continuity will result in an even better season.
That would certainly help the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances. As the strongest overall unit on this football team, the offensive line is a driving force in the Ravens’ success – past and present.