There has been no position group hit harder by the Baltimore Ravens COVID-19 outbreak more so than their offensive line. Head coach John Harbaugh‘s team has had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the NFL in 2020 and will be missing a number of key players because during their Tuesday night clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers because of it.
The group perhaps most affected by the losses has been the offensive line. Baltimore had already lost starting left tackle and 2019 All-Pro Ronnie Stanley to an ankle injury but will now be even more shorthanded than they could’ve imagined. Both Ravens centers Matt Skura, Patrick Mekari, and starting long snapper Morgan Cox will all be out for Baltimore’s upcoming Week 12 game. The Steelers are currently the only unbeaten team in the NFL and the Ravens are coming off of just their second series of back-to-back losses in the Lamar Jackson era. Pittsburgh took their first 2020 matchup with Baltimore 28-24.
One of the largest reasons the Steelers have won 10 straight games this season is due to their incredibly productive defensive line. Anchored by perennial Pro-Bowlers T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh currently ranks first in the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, and quarterback knockdown percentage. They also boast the league’s seventh-best rush defense.
Games between the Steelers and Ravens are often decided in the trenches and Pittsburgh looks to have a significant advantage going into their Week 12 matchup. However, that doesn’t mean they are a lock to win. Rather, it means the Ravens need a great performance from the offensive linemen they have left. Games between the Steelers and Ravens are always tight and the Baltimore Ravens offensive line could be the difference in their game on Tuesday night.
Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line Will Be a Puzzle vs. Steelers
As of writing this, just Orlando Brown, Bradley Bozeman, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Ben Powers, and Jake Rodgers are available to the Ravens for Tuesday’s game. The article follows who is projected to play after a number of Ravens are potentially removed from the COVID-IR. All potential starters are contingent on passing the NFL’s COVID-19 testing protocol prior to Tuesday’s game.
The Strength: Orlando Brown Jr.
Outside of Bozeman, Brown is really the only offensive lineman left on the Ravens roster with consistent play at his position. Not only that, but he’s been excellent since taking over for the injured Stanley at left tackle. Stanley has been one of the best left tackles in all of football since his rookie season and left a void that could’ve been very hard to fill on another team. Instead, Brown has excelled in his place.
Since being swung over to left tackle from the right side, Brown has done an exceptional job in replacement of Stanley. He played 40 straight games at left tackle for the University of Oklahoma and his performance in college has carried over to the NFL. Brown has played a total of 651 snaps in 2020 and has a (current) team high grade per Pro Football Focus of 76.4 amongst Ravens offensive lineman. He is not the most athletic player but at his size, 6’8″ 345 pounds, he is a smart enough player to continually keep defensive lineman off balance in both the run and pass game. Stanley finished the year with an 80.0 grade in 2020.
Brown has not missed a snap since starting his first game in Week 7 of the 2018 season. He has been a rock on the Ravens offensive line and will likely be asked to just hold a steady ship on Tuesday. The Steelers possess one of the best outside pass rushing duos in football in Watt and Bud Dupree, and keeping them in check could easily be the difference in the game.
The Weakness: The Right Side
As previously mentioned, the Steelers have a very good defensive line. Beyond Watt and Heyward, Dupree is having another productive season in 2020. The 17 sacks between him and Watt are the most of any duo in the NFL. Baltimore is also lucky that Stephon Tuitt will be sidelined for the game. This is significant because the right side of the Ravens offensive line has been a mess all season outside of the games that Brown started at right tackle. Watt frequently comes off the left side of the defensive line, making him the responsibility of Fluker and rookie Tyre Phillips.
Both Fluker and Phillips have seen limited action in 2020. Phillips was brought in to replace long-time Ravens right guard and former All-Pro Marshal Yanda. Yanda’s spot was up for grabs following his retirement last spring and Phillips has struggled as a rookie. He has been one of the more disciplined linemen on the Ravens offense but has failed to affect both the passing and running game. His 49.0 overall grade per PFF is the lowest amongst Ravens offensive lineman to have started one or more games this season.
Fluker is the opposite of Phillips. He is a veteran tackle who has provided adequate blocking but is currently tied for eighth amongst guards in penalties with five. Those five penalties have come on just 276 snaps (the 71st most amongst guards).
The right side of the Ravens line is the most unpredictable part of their team right now. If Robert Griffin III is going to have any success filling in for Jackson at quarterback, the right side of the offensive line needs to at least stifle Watt and the other Pittsburgh defensive lineman.
The Unkown: Center/Bradley Bozeman
With each Mekari and Skura out on the COVID-IR, the starting center position is up for grabs. The Ravens have had problems under center all year but Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have still only used Mekari and Skura this season. Skura was benched for Mekari following a three-fumble effort in the pouring rain against the New England Patriots and Mekari delivered a similar level of production over his 349 snaps at both interior offensive line and tackle. Neither were picture-perfect but Mekari’s PFF grade of 63.9 was significantly better than Skura’s 51.5.
While no center has been reported as a starter, Bozeman seems like the safest option to start Tuesday’s game. Bozeman was drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL draft and has since become a somewhat dependable starter at left guard for Baltimore. During his college career, he started 31 games at center for the Alabama Crimson Tide — being named a first-team All-SEC starter by the Associated Press in 2017.
Bozeman had a number of hiccups as a rookie but has since flattened out his performance into a solid NFL guard. His 63.4 and 63.5 PFF grades in back-to-back seasons paint a near-identical image from a performance perspective. He has now started each of the Ravens’ last 26 regular-season games and has given up a total of five sacks during that time frame.
If Bozeman is to move back to center for Tuesday’s game, it should at least provide Griffin with a safe pair of hands to get him the ball. The Ravens have shown that it is impossible to even rely on clean exchanges under center in 2020 so having a player with experience at the position is a bonus for a jig-sawed offensive line.
Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line Key To Victory: Run Blocking Up The Middle
Prior to the loss of Jackson at quarterback, Baltimore’s offense remained very stale in 2020. Roman has come under a lot of fire for his play-calling and now without the most athletic quarterback in NFL history at his disposal, his job has become a lot harder. However, if the Ravens can establish a solid rushing attack early in the game, it will make both Griffin and Roman’s jobs a lot easier.
Baltimore cruised to an easy 28-10 victory against Pittsburgh in their final meeting of 2019 while sitting multiple starters and with Griffin at the helm. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 96 yards and threw one interception. The saving grace for the Ravens was their 223 total rushing yards between Griffin, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill — the same trio that will suit up for Baltimore on Tuesday.
Harbaugh has game-planned for Mike Tomlin‘s Steelers 28 previous times and he knows they are not invincible. The Ravens receivers have shown little game-changing ability so the Ravens most efficient way to victory will likely be on the ground. If the Ravens patchwork offensive line can open up consistent holes through the middle for Edwards and Hill, Baltimore may actually have a shot to move to 7-4 on the season.