Ravens' blockers get back to basics

OWINGS MILLS -- It sounds fairly elementary since this is the supposedly ultra-complicated NFL. The Baltimore Ravens' oft-maligned offensive line hasn't made any drastic changes to its personnel. And these are the same blockers who were judged completely inept and too old when they allowed nine sacks and helped produce the last-ranked running game in the league after two games.

However, a revamped, back-to-basics approach that included a change in blocking schemes and the old-school idea of hitting the blocking sled more often is being credited for a measurable resurgence.

Since the first two games, an offensive line with four starters over age 30 has allowed only one sack. The running game rebounded with a season-high 159 yards in a 35-17 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions.

"We've changed a lot of things since the Colts and Titans games where we were running kind of laterally," offensive guard Keydrick Vincent said. "Now, the coaches put in a different scheme where we can actually fire off the ball vertically and it's been successful.

"I think this is much better. We like it a lot."

Previously, the Ravens were running a lot of three-man zone blocking patterns. Now, they run combination blocks where the center and guard double-team one lineman and the other guard is left free for single blocking. In many cases, the guard peels off the double-team and works downfield to try to pick off linebackers and safeties.

The blocking scheme created a lot more lanes to run through for former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis, granting him options on whether to cut back against the Lions' pursuit.

Using a straightforward approach, Lewis rushed for a season-high 95 yards on 19 carries, a 5.3 average. Backup Chester Taylor managed 46 yards on nine carries.

"It's getting better slowly, but surely," Lewis said. "I think the line is getting more confidence in this running game and I'm getting more confident. I'm getting a feel for everything that's going on and the different schemes that we're putting in as far as running the football."

Against Detroit, Baltimore was able to prevent inside penetration from 340-pound defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson. Center Mike Flynn, left guard Edwin Mulitalo and Vincent kept them at bay at the line of scrimmage, negating their impact.

"There was some progress," said right tackle Orlando Brown, who has been alternating with backup Tony Pashos "We ran the ball much better, but I'll always look at the negative stuff. I need to block better. I need to work harder, all of us need to until we can get y'all off our back.

"As a unit, as a line, we're hitting the sled more and we're working more run plays during the week. I want it to come together quicker, though."

Under new coach Romeo Crennel, the Browns have instituted a 3-4 defense that looks very similar to the New England Patriots' alignment except this version isn't nearly as effective. Cleveland has the NFL's 28th-ranked defense, and ranks 30th against the run where it allows 137.8 yards per contest.

"They are very basic in their approach, and so is New England," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You can see the lineage there."

Since those first two games, the line appears to have regained some of its hard-nosed persona and is no longer being ridiculed so much on the Internet and sports talk radio. A line that averages 336 pounds is simply charging straight ahead and getting helmets on defenders.

"We've been keeping our heads down, just going about our business and not paying attention to what people have been saying about us," Vincent said. "We're back to playing our kind of football, and I think it shows on the field."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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