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For Flacco’s Safety, Ravens O-Line Must Improve

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(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The health of Joe Flacco is a major priority for the Baltimore Ravens, and that responsibility falls on an offensive line that must do a better job of protecting the quarterback.

Flacco was sacked twice, threw an interception and lost a fumble Sunday in Baltimore’s 29-14 win over the Houston Texans. He was also hit seven times, according to the stat sheet.

“We can do better,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We don’t need Joe getting hit like that.”

The last thing the Ravens (4-1) need is to lose Flacco, especially because his backup is untested rookie Tyrod Taylor. So it is imperative that Baltimore’s offensive front form a sturdier wall, beginning Monday night against Jacksonville (1-5).

“No question. That’s the truth,” center Matt Birk said Wednesday. “Joe took too many shots on Sunday. He played great and we won, but certainly up front we need to perform better as a unit.”

In their defense, several of the linemen are still getting used to each other. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was added just before the season began, and his arrival caused tackle Michael Oher to return to the right side, where he played two years ago as a rookie. Also, newcomer Andre Gurode has been playing left guard in place of injured Ben Grubbs.

Harbaugh said the problem against Houston could be attributed to a few lost 1-on-1 battles and mistakes in the protection scheme.

Clearly, this revamped line might need some time before it starts performing as a cohesively.

“We fit Andre in there, and I think he’s done a great job filling in for Ben. McKinnie is very new to this, and we moved Mike back over to the right side,” Flacco noted. “As a team, we’re going to do nothing but get better, and that includes those guys. They’re going to get more and more used to each other and playing in the positions that they’re in.”

The running game, led by Ray Rice, has been effective. But Flacco has absorbed 10 sacks in five games, fumbled five times and thrown four interceptions, mainly because of pressure in the pocket.

Fortunately for the Ravens, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder knows how to take punishment. In his first three seasons he never missed a start, and this season it’s been more of the same.

“Ever since I’ve been here, when people ask me about Joe, I say I love Joe,” Birk said. “He’s tough as nails and he stands in there. Even when he knows he’s going to get hit, he still keeps his feet on the ground and throws the ball.”

Flacco considers that to be merely part of the job description.

“Every now and then you’re going to get hit a little bit. That’s the name of the game as an NFL quarterback,” he said. “I’m going to have all the confidence in the world in those guys at all times.”

And he will never complain about them, either.

“They want to do nothing more than to protect me and make holes for Ray,” Flacco said. “You know where their hearts are. I’m optimistic about it, and feel great so far about where they are.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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