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4. The Ravens finally made their big switcheroo on the offensive line and it paid off, which is why we will probably see this same starting five against the Denver Broncos.
As the M&T Bank Stadium crowd still buzzed Sunday after the return of Ray Lewis, the 6-foot-8 offensive tackle nearly snuck out on the field without being noticed. But there was Bryant McKinnie, an offseason of drama and a season of inactivity behind him, lumbering out on the field for his first start of the season. For whatever reason, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had been reluctant to make the move that would be perceived as pushing the panic button when it comes to his inconsistent offensive line. But finally, with offensive guard Jah Reid out with a toe injury and Bobbie Williams getting exposed at times this season, Harbaugh inserted McKinnie at left tackle, triggering a chain of needed roster moves that shifted Michael Oher back to right tackle and moved rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard. You can argue that this move should have been made months ago -- I know I did in this space back in October -- but the reality is that if Harbaugh thought this switcheroo would help him win then, he would have done it.
Harbaugh made the move Sunday, and it paid off in a 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts. It must be acknowledged that the Colts defense, which is in the middle of a challenging personnel overhaul to Chuck Pagano's hybrid 3-4 scheme, was statistically one of the NFL's worst. The Colts struggle to stop both the run and the pass, and pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined for just 13 sacks this year. That being said, the remodeled offensive line played well Sunday, paving the way for 172 rushing yards at 5.4 yards per pop and allowing quarterback Joe Flacco to get sacked just once (on what I'm pretty sure was a designed rollout that knowingly left Flacco exposed). Flacco was hit just twice, and he usually had a few seconds to look for open receivers as they ran vertical routes deep down the field.
Given how well the offense performed -- the Ravens averaged 7.9 yards per play -- and the fact that they play the same Denver Broncos who pummeled Flacco a few weeks ago, you have to figure they will trot out the same starting five on Saturday. This group, with McKinnie at left tackle and Oher on the right, gives the Ravens the best chance to pull off the upset. Don't ask me. Ask center Matt Birk, who admitted after Sunday's win that "it's the best situation for us as an offense to have those five guys out there." We will see if Harbaugh agrees, but after he looks at the game tape Monday, I can't imagine he won't.
January 6, 2013