Last Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens beat their division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals 19-17, in a thrilling back-and-forth battle. Throughout the game, the Ravens and the Bengals played some figurative chess.
After a lot of trash talk during the offseason, led by quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals failed to live up to the hype. The Ravens, who led by a slim margin for large portions of the game, did so behind an offensive line that was on its fourth starter at its most vital position, left tackle.
The Ravens started Ronnie Stanley, a former first-round pick and a franchise cornerstone. His long-awaited return came at the most necessary time.
As he has been nursing lower leg injuries for the past two seasons, Stanley’s return came in primetime and Lamar Jackson was definitely happy he was there.
Stanley returned, but he was not the only returning offensive lineman playing left tackle. Stanley played 22 snaps and shared the field with the second left tackle starter of the year, Patrick Mekari. Mekari came in on the second offensive drive and split time playing almost double the snaps (43).
Mekari, a versatile starter playing all across the offensive line, has developed into one of the most important players on the Ravens over the last few seasons.
Dominating the snap share, Mekari played strong football and helped ease Stanley’s burden. The Ravens learned that the hard way last season when they rushed him back in Week 1, only for him to get hurt and not play the rest of the season.
Between the two, the Ravens and Jackson found increased offensive success against a talented and physically imposing defensive line. The Ravens ran for 155 yards, and when it mattered, they were able to score game-winning points — something they have lacked as of late.
Why Ronnie Stanley won’t be the Ravens’ full-time LT in Week 1
Heading into Week 6, many fans may expect to see Stanley on the field for every snap. I’m here to tell you that this won’t be the case this Sunday.
There are many cases for why Stanley should be the starter on Sunday.
- He has been a full participant in practice this week
- He played well in limited snaps last week
- He has an expensive contract
- He is the most talented offensive lineman and one of the most talented players on the team
- He makes players around him better
- Mekari is versatile and can be used in a multitude of places
There are many reasons why Stanley should be the starter, but the sheer fact is that, in Week 5, the rotating lineman thing worked, which makes it tempting to continue.
This is not a strategy typical of the NFL. The league is one in which teams pick and play their best five linemen, sometimes to their detriment.
While Mekari can play guard as well as center in addition to tackle, the Ravens can say with confidence that, from center to right tackle, are set starters.
Rookie first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum has found success in the early goings. Kevin Zeitler is a veteran and the best Ravens lineman last season. And free agent signing Morgan Moses is as solid as they come at right tackle.
With that, the assumption would be that the left guard and Ben Powers would be on the hot seat. But truthfully, Powers has played well, and he is trending toward really good. You might not hear his name once the game is past the starting lineup, but that is a good thing.
Most of the time, when you hear an offensive linemen’s name, it is because they got beat by a defender or they got paid.
For the Ravens and their roster construction, it is essential to have players like Ben Powers. Having a guy like Powers at left guard, instead of a slightly above-average, veteran, overpaid free agent addition, allows the Ravens to go out and sign an edge rusher like Jason Pierre-Paul and fill other needs.
Why must he start though?
The proof lies in the PFF grades. Ben Powers through Week 5 is the second-highest-graded pass-protecting guard. In addition to that, the trio of Powers, Linderbaum, and Zeitler have only allowed one sack. The group has played well individually and together and this has improved each week.
Last Sunday, Ben Powers scored an 88.5, the highest grade among Ravens offensive linemen. Also, Powers’ highest score of the young season. He has shown growth in each game.
So with this said, it seems like Mekari and Stanley are set to share the left tackle position until Ronnie Stanley is 100% healthy. The Ravens will not rush him.
For them, they will not have a repeat of last season and want to have him for a deep playoff run. Look for the Ravens to split carries down the middle. They will switch off the series most likely. Stanley may play a little extra toward the end of the game, but Mekari will still have a role.
Moving forward this is an intriguing concept to continue with. Keeping both linemen fresh may help the Ravens in the long term. They also will be able to keep Mekari fresh, in case of any further injuries.
For now, hold strong knowing the group is blocking better. The pass blocking has been elite thus far and the run blocking has been getting better as the running backs get healthy. With that, it may be no coincidence, the offensive line is the key cog that helps the Ravens’ offense flow.
The most vital position on the line is the home in the short and long term for Ronnie Stanley, but for now, get used to seeing both Stanley and Mekari in the game, it may be for the best.