49ers & Ravens Offensive Lines Take Different, Yet Healthy Paths To The Super Bowl

The Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to start seven different offensive line combinations this past season due to all of the injuries that they had suffered throughout the season. As a result, the front five never had a significant amount of time to gel together and it played a big part in the running game being dismal.

In less than two weeks the Baltimore Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and it will feature two offensive line units on different ends of the spectrum as far as playing alongside each other all season long. Believe or not, the 49ers have started the same five players on their offensive line in the same five spots the entire season. That\’s pretty remarkable when you look at all of the juggling that has taken place on the Steelers offensive line for the past three seasons.

As a result of being able to start the same five players week in and week out, the 49ers finished the regular season ranked fourth overall in rushing yards per game (155.7) and third overall in rushing yards per play (5.06).

The Ravens offensive line, however, took a completely different route to the Super Bowl. While not as stable as the 49ers, the Ravens did have three players, Matt Birk, Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele, who started every game this season. The Ravens made it through their first five games with the same starting five offensive linemen until left guard Ramon Harewood was benched for poor play and replaced by Bobbie Williams. That new starting five made it four games together until Williams was replaced at left guard by Jah Reid. With Reid now inserted that group of five lasted four more games until right guard Marshal Yanda missed the Week 15 game due to an injury. Yands returned for the Week 16 game, but sat out the regular season finale in order to rest up for the playoffs.

By the time the regular season was over the Ravens had only used four different starting offensive line combinations, but more were on the way for the playoffs.

In their Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts the Ravens made the bold move of juggling their offensive line for a fifth time in grand fashion due to a toe injury suffered by Reid. Veteran Bryant McKinnie, who hadn\’t started a game all season, became the new starting left tackle and Oher was shifted over to the right tackle spot. Osemele, who started all sixteen regular season games at right tackle become the new starting left guard as he replaced the injured Reid. That starting five has remained in tact throughout the Ravens three playoff games and will presumably be the unit that starts down in New Orleans.

If only the Steelers offensive line could remain as healthy as both the 49ers and the Ravens were this past season. In total the Steelers lost 34 games out of offensive linemen David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey due to injuries in 2012.

  • Steelhawk55

    A talented offense like the Steelers can overcome an injury or two on the offensive line for a couple games. But when the injuries keep adding up like they did this year, your offense becomes handcuffed due to the talent limitations on the line. Having to keep your backs or TE’s in to block because you can’t count on your front five to keep your QB clean makes it easier for the defense to cover your route combinations. Do not make the mistake of underestimating the difference that a talented/healthy offensive line can make on an offense.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Colbert & Bouchette each last week pointed out “Steelers had less injuries than some playoff teams.” Again you can look that up its a recent article by Ed in Pgh Post Gazette. Colbert & Bouchette know the NFL.

    I think Ravens had all their stars on D hurt: Suggs, RayLewis, Ngata, Reed agin. Insteda using excuses & whining, they are in the playoffs.

    So continue to whine & use all the excuses u want. Knowledgabl people know the way to win in NFL is just like in any job: Control what u do have control over. Steelers did not control aspects they did hav control over. Lack of planning in preason & between reg season games was obvious: healthy veterans made stupid penalties, Steelers lost to terrible teams, veterens & Tomlin made bonehead decisions. LeBeau early in season blew it planning on starting Mundy & ChrisCarter even tho we knew from end of last season those 2 were a liability.

    Excuses excuses, insted of focus in what u control. Ravens overcame injuries. 49ers are on the way up & are not using an excuse their young QB being inexperienced. If Steelers had Kaepernick, a whiner wuld use the excuse that our QB Kaepernick is only in his 2nd year. Instead if practicing to get in same page as our receivers.

    As a longtime Steelers fan, I hate to admit it but Steelers are the definition of “on the way down”.

  • zyzak

    Ravens kept Flacco clean, Ben is a sitting duck back there. Flacco throws a lot of deep balls, I hope Haley sees that

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Need the deep ball in an NFL offense. The Patriots lost to the Ravens because they had no deep threat. Dinking and dunking can only get you so far.

  • steeltown

    Wait.. 7 different OLine combinations? That’s it? No excuse then, this is no excuse, in 2011 the Steelers literally used over 20 different OLine combinations and went 12-4 and made the playoffs. No excuse.

    I’m not downplaying the frustration building over OL injuries, its become very bothersome, but its not the reason we missed the playoffs, Also Ben had more TD’s (in less games) and less INT’s then last season and took far less sacks, so its not Ben’s fault either as some would like to lay blame.

    It comes down to three things, Offensive turnovers (mistakes/fumbles), no Defensive takeaways (turnover ratio) and the Run game (not having a feature RB) last year Mendenhall had almost 1,000yds and nearly 10TD’s with THAT 2011 makeshift OLine

  • steeltown

    They arent ‘on the way down’, but I agree they did not control aspects that they couldve controlled. Turnovers killed this Team this year, plan and simple, most of the games lost were lost by one score or less. Too many mistakes on Offense (mainly fumbles by the RB and WR) and another aspect was penalties on Special Teams that negated good returns and in turn negated good field position.

    Cant agree with you more over Mundy and Carter.. time to trim the fat, also pending what happens with Foote and the draft, they shouldnt tender Sylvestor either, he’s not worth the $1.3 million when we are in need of cap space to secure players that actually CONTRIBUTE

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Ben holds the ball too long regardless of how much time giv him tho. Haley tried to work in some shorter dropbacks to save Ben’s life. Worked fine til Ben got hurt, then Ben returned to old 5-7 step drops when Ben came back. Also I think defenses adjusted by chucking our WRs at the line. All our WRs were found to be soft.

  • steeltown

    Agreed. Ben took far less sacks and was playing great until the injury.

    Our WR’s are not soft they are just undersized speed guys, we NEED the full compliment of WR’s, we NEED a big bodied guy… also another good TE wouldnt hurt

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Thanks for mentioning the 2011 20-different OLine combinations. Yur mentioning facts like that info, provides (much-needed) Quality Control here.

  • Maurice_hill_district


  • Bob Loblaw

    Teams not having to worry about the Steelers run game takes away the deep ball. Flacco can air it out because defenses are forced to account for Ray Rice.

  • zyzak

    The offense was never good this year because of the lack of deep balls thrown and all the drops by Wallace.

  • Mike Carroll

    I was thinking the same thing about 20+ combinations the year before, but Dave is referring to starting line combinations here.

  • GunsDontKillWoodleyKills

    That weak running game had nothing to do with it?

  • Pete

    The thing you might be forgetting is that both Adams and DeCastro were rookies in 2012, and Colon was starting at a new position. So the line had to adapt to different combinations AND had to help the rookies. To me, that is a tough situation for the O line.

  • Mike Carroll

    Exactly. This is one reason I’m not sure Haley intends to play “dink and dunk” moving forward. The team did what it had to last year because the running game was so bad.

  • Pete

    Patience people. The O line is poised to become an area of strength for the Steelers. The Steelers have had many ups and downs on the O line for the last several years. The best running attack we’ve had lately was when we picked up the ex-Dallas LT Adams in 2010 and played him at RT. Mendenhall rushed for 1,273 yds mostly to the right and the Steelers went to the Super Bowl.

    Our new O line will be better than the the 2010 line. Lets not fool ourselves. Both the Ravens and more so the 49ers have very good O lines. The Ravens also have good depth. The Steelers are getting there. The only question I ask is if there is something the Steelers can do to minimize injuries on the line.

  • Mike Carroll

    The potential for a strong offensive line should be there given the recent draft investments, but I don’t think eventual success is assured for this unit. The line’s performance and on-going injury issues are very troubling, especially since it’s now extending to their young guys. The Ravens actually got 16 starts from their rookie, Osemele, and now he has switched positions for them in the playoffs! Adams and DeCastro had about 10 starts between them I believe. Second year player, Gilbert, added just six more. The new O-line coach has his work cut out for him, because a big turnaround is required from the O-line this upcoming season.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    No guarantee it will be better. Every year in the past people said & we thought our o-line will be better.

    Potential is there to improve, i.e we assume Adams will drastically improve his own pass-blocking & we assume DD wont be getting owned next year.

    But Starks wont be as healthy as he was this year, Colon & Maukice get hurt every year. Sounds like every year we’ll be saying dont worry our o-line will b better next year.

  • steeltown

    As Mike said, the potential is there. I hope they can stay healthy. One thing I hate is how everyone is dogging DeCastro for his mediocre play.. gimme a break the guy was a rookie and was rehabbing his knee all season subsequently getting no playing time, not even practicing till the end of November. He’ll be ready come next season just watch.. and lets not forget no one was giving Adams a shot after we drafted him and I think he played pretty well for a rookie, I expect him to only get better

  • steeltown

    I agree with you, I in no way am arguing that.. and I really believe the OLine will be improved next season now that they got their feet wet. Just hope we can find a way to keep Foster, he plays Guard and Tackle and if we lose Starks via FA or release Colon then we’ll need his versatility.