The last couple of seasons have shown just how valuable the Offensive Line is to the success of a franchise. Consider that the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl after dominant performances down the stretch from the regular season all through the post-season. After that year, they had to totally retool their defense after future Hall-Of-Famers Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed was released. They also lost a few valuable – but not critical – players on the defensive side. After bringing in several new players and notable free-agents, the defense played remarkably well. About as well as they had the year before with Lewis and Reed at the end of their careers. But where they fell apart was on offense.
During their Super Bowl run, the Offensive Line had dominated. The only real difference was that the one-time all-pro Center, Matt Birk retired after 16 years (??). The offense was putrid. The starting Running back Ray Rice had one of the worst averages of all RB’s in the league, second only to Bernard Pierce, the Ravens back-up RB. Rice was somewhat injured, but that in no way explained the totality of the difference. Add to that Pierce’s production and Joe Flacco’s precipitous drop in production, aided by a staggering 48 sacks, and it was obvious that this was more than just a Super Bowl hang-over. (One can also argue that the trading of WR Anquan Boldin and injury to TE Dennis Pitta had major effects, but there were other players that should have been able to substitute most of their production.) The one MAJOR difference was the retirement of Matt Birk.
An interesting fact about Offensive Linemen is that they are almost always the most intelligent players on a football team. Matt Birk had graduated from Princeton and got a score on the Wunderlich that was close to the highest of all time. The Offensive Tackles on the Ravens were former first-round bust Bryant McKinnie and the formerly homeless Michael Oher of “The Blind Side” fame. Neither of these players is known for his intelligence. Reports are that during their stretch run, after the play was called in the huddle, Birk would tell each lineman exactly what his responsibilities were. Hence, two players that had marvelous physical attributes, but who were not up to the demands of their positions mentally, were able to take the team to a Super Bowl victory. [Note: the Ravens traded McKinnie half-way through the 2013 season and Oher was allowed to leave in free-agency.]
Fast forward to the 2014 season and with a retooled offensive line and a new zone-blocking offensive scheme under Gary Kubiak, and the Ravens are back to beating their opponents with even less credentialed Running Backs.
After the 2013 season, long-time New England Patriots Offensive Line coach retired. Suddenly, the Patriots are looking ver y ordinary.