Archive for November, 2012

Is it time to insert Bryant McKinnie back into the starting lineup?

ImageLost in all the excitement of a dramatic overtime win yesterday in San Diego, was the fact that once again the offensive line was woefully ineffective in the running and passing game and if not for some late game heroics by Ray Rice, would have been the main contributor in the team’s third loss of the season. This is starting to become a pattern as the musical chairs approach that John Harbaugh and the coaching staff have used at left guard, in an apparent attempt to keep veteran Bryant McKinnie off the field by any means necessary, has been a colossal failure so far in 2012.

The line has regressed, and no matter what combination Harbaugh and the coaching staff has chosen running back Ray Rice, along with quarterback Joe Flacco have struggled mightily at times due to the poor performance of the unit.  The player grading site Pro Football Focus had the McKinnie led Ravens offensive line ranked in the top 10 for 2011, but in 2012 they have fallen down to  17th overall. I think it is safe to say that anyone with two eyeballs can see this offensive line has struggled in one way or the other all year long, and the constant upheaval on the left side is a big contributing factor.

First it was an unheralded 6th round pick Ramon Harewood at left guard, who started out fine but then regressed quickly and has not even been active the past two games. Then it was Bobbie Williams, the wily old veteran who has battled ankle injuries the past year or so and at 36 years old is probably on his last legs, trying to fill the hole on the left side. He lasted a few games, and was eventually pulled for performance reasons. Finally it has been former 3rd round pick Jah Reid at the left guard spot the past 2 games, who has looked completely overmatched and out of his element thus far.

I think it is safe to say at this point, nothing has worked. For the better part of the season and game yesterday Ray Rice has had no holes to run through, with the line getting pushed back on a regular basis. Rice does his most damage in space, but when the line of scrimmage is pushed into the backfield repeatedly there isn’t much even a great back like Rice can do. Joe Flacco routinely deals with the pocket collapsing around him, leading to near fumbles and the offense stalling out on drives putting the defense back on the field for long stretches.

What is the solution?  Well that could be a very easy question to answer, but it seems like from all the evidence so far the coaching staff and John Harbaugh specifically want no part of it. 2011 starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie went through a much publicized drama this past training camp about his failure to report on time, and then had a fallout with the coaching staff which almost led to him being released as final roster cuts were being made. Cooler heads prevailed and McKinnie was brought back at a reduced salary, but it was clear the man in charge on the field did not want him around anymore. One only has to wonder if GM Ozzie Newsome pulled Harbaugh back a little bit from that stance, because it sure seemed like if it was up to Harbaugh he would have been gone back in August.

Let’s face it, McKinnie was never a “Harbaugh guy”. His fickle attitude, perceived lack of commitment, and overall demeanor has rubbed the staff the wrong way since he got here. Despite those issues, McKinnie started at left tackle in 2011 and played decently, helping Ray Rice to his most productive season of his career and the Ravens to their deepest playoff run in the Harbaugh era.

Despite his respectable showing in 2011, the coaching staff has made their displeasure for McKinnie known repeatedly in oh so subtle ways, and have relegated this former starting left tackle to a “jumbo package” role that has him seeing the field for only a handful of times a game if that. He is pretty much an afterthought in the coach’s eyes and seems to be getting pushed out of any type of significant role, with the staff looking at his expiring contract and his impending departure as a reason to phase him out of the lineup.

It seems like while McKinnie could almost certainly help this offensive line, and put players like Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele back in their natural positions, there is an outright refusal to have McKinnie be any part of this group in 2012. With the many offensive line questions John Harbaugh faces every week I think you would be hard pressed to find him mention McKinnie’s name one single time so far this year. It is almost like he is on the team, but he isn’t on the team. Persona non grata in Casa de Harbaugh.

The coaching staff and front office seem to be dead set on Michael Oher as their left tackle for now and the future, despite his constant struggles on the that side. Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t an All Pro on the right side but his play was markedly better for the 3 years he was over there compared to his struggles on the left side in those opportunities. Oher continues to struggle with speed rushers, and his wide powerful build would seem to suit him better on the right side versus left.

Kelechi Osemele seemed to be projected at the starting LG spot coming into training camp, until “McKinnie-Gate”  forced a young but promising rookie into a role at right tackle he just doesn’t seem to be ready for. Osemele has a lot of talent, but also a lot to learn and his play lately has looked like that of a rookie that needs a bit more experience before handling that role effectively. Instead of the steady improvement you would expect from a rookie as the season wears on, he like others have seemed to regress in his starting right tackle role.

So I guess this begs the question, when you go through four different offensive line combinations looking for a solution, why hasn’t the most obvious one been tried out? The one that worked for 19 games (and almost 20) last year, when the Ravens were a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl? Am I missing something here? I don’t think so but it appears the staff is….for whatever reason. It seems like pure stubbornness by the coaches, one in particular I am guessing, in what seems to be a fairly obvious possible solution.

Now Coach Harbaugh could prove me wrong and make a shake up this week when our bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers stroll into town, but I won’t be holding my breathe for that one. Harbaugh has shown that if you get on his bad side, it is hard to get back in his good graces. Promising linebacker Dannell Ellerbe who has shown flashes consistently the past 3 years, got in the doghouse after a preseason excessive celebration situation, and if it wasn’t for an injury to Ray Lewis might still be there today. While I completely understand the need for everyone to “buy in” to the team mentality, sometimes you have to put the best players on the field even if he doesn’t have the perfect makeup you are looking for in your players.

Whatever happens the rest of the way I think for this offense to take the next step, the offensive line needs a massive improvement. Every single option has been exhausted, except the most obvious one  inserting McKinnie back at the left tackle spot. The performance of the unit surely can’t get much worse, that is for sure. I guess the biggest question is what do you have to lose?

The answer might just be a Super Bowl.

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