Offensive line struggling to protect Flacco

HOUSTON -- Joe Flacco was under siege, constantly harassed and battered. The Baltimore Ravens' quarterback had to watch his back and his front Monday night against the Houston Texans, absorning a lot of hard hits. During a 34-28 overtime victory at Reliant Stadium, the Ravens allowed a season-high five sacks and Flacco was hit nine times as he fumbled once.

If this was only an aberration, it could be easily dismissed.

Instead, this marks an alarming trend for the offensive line and the backs and tight ends assigned to protect Flacco from harm's way. The Ravens have allowed a total of 13 sacks in the past three games and 22 sacks over the last five contests, becoming increasingly vulnerable to overload blitz packages and line stunts. "Execution, it's just execution," six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said early Tuesday morning in the visitors' locker room. "Offense is one of those things. If it's an eight-man protection, all eight guys have to get their blocks. If one doesn't, it doesn't do any good. Offense is everybody executing at the same time. We're just not quite there." The Ravens made a bold attempt to try to provide a boost to a languishing running game, reconfiguring the offensive line in a jumbo package to start the game. The Ravens moved offensive tackle Marshal Yanda back to his old right guard spot, moving Oniel Cousins into his right tackle position. And starting right guard Chris Chester lined up at tight end.

It was an ineffective strategy, though, because the offensive line didn't get enough push and or stick with blocks on a consistent basis. The pass protection issues were still there. Plus, the Ravens rushed for only 63 yards on 24 carries for a 2.6 average per carry. To open the season, the Ravens allowed only five sacks in the first five games. The Texans beat the Ravens with blitz pressure as outside linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Bernard Pollard stormed the pocket for 1 ½ sacks apiece.

"There were some spread issues," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We missed a sight one time. We missed a high another time. We probably got beat one on one a couple times. That's a concern. "We've talked about the pass protection before and it goes for everybody. It's the offensive lines, it's the tight ends, it's the running backs, it's the receivers, and it's the quarterback. Whatever we need to do to get that cleared up we have to do and we're capable of doing that." During the first offensive series, Flacco was sacked as Pollard and Cushing held an impromptu team meeting in the Ravens' backfield. There was another botched protection by Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain, who was returning from a sprained left ankle.

Plus, offensive tackle Michael Oher had another shaky game as he was beaten by Pollard for a sack. He was in good position to recover Flacco's fumble after trailing Pollard on the play. Oher was also flagged for his seventh false start of the season, leading the team.

He committed three penalties during last week's 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, flagged once for holding and twice for false starts. "I wasn't even close," Oher said. "It's a problem I have to fix now. I got to slow it down. I'm hurting my team. I got to get it done." What's it going to take to get back in sync? "Just working on timing and everything," said Oher, the Ravens' first-round draft pick last season who seemed more comfortable last season at the less challenging right tackle position. "Just getting the job done, that's what it all boils down to: getting it done and making it happen. You can call anything you want, but you still got to make it work." The Ravens definitely missed the blocking presence of two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, who was out with a pulled hamstring with rookies Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta filling in for him.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice only managed to rush for 54 yards on 19 carries, averaging 2.8 yards per rush. The Ravens have made getting their power running game going again a major priority.

However, the results weren't there with the exception of a one-yard Willis McGahee touchdown run as they loaded up their red-zone offense with seven offensive linemen as he scored off left guard Ben Grubbs and Birk's blocks. "The jumbo package, it's something we've been working on all week," McClain said. "We had some good plays and some negative plays. It's a new look in our offense. It's something for us to build on to get it going."

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