Ravens' gamble on offensive line pays off

NEW ORLEANS -- Unlike the Baltimore Ravens' change at offensive coordinator this season, the change on the offensive line was forced upon the team.

Left guard Jah Reid dislocated a toe in the regular-season finale, and the Ravens decided to take a gamble. Instead of just plugging in Bobbie Williams into Reid's spot, the Ravens moved right tackle Kelechi Osemele to left guard, shifted left tackle Michael Oher to the right side and put Bryant McKinnie in at left tackle. Baltimore has used this offensive line combination on every snap in the postseason after not using this lineup for one snap in the regular season.

The reshuffling has certainly paid off for the Ravens. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked only four times on 99 dropbacks (one sack every 24.8 dropbacks) in the playoffs. That's much improved than getting sacked once every 16.3 dropbacks in the regular season.

"You’re really rolling the dice, switching guys around like that," right guard Marshal Yanda said. "You’re in the playoffs, so if something goes wrong or you have a bad game, we’re done and we’re not here right now. Those guys did a really good job of not missing a beat. That just speaks well to how good of players they are."

The key to the success of the offensive line has been left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was almost not on the Ravens this year. Just before the regular season, McKinnie posted on Twitter that he had been released by the Ravens. But, after taking a $1 million pay cut, he remained with the team in a reserve role all regular season.

McKinnie, 33, has looked strong and fresh this postseason, allowing just one sack. Now, he'll go against 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks in his first 13 games this season but none in his last five.

"What Bryant's been through can't be overstated," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "All year, to sit and wait and wait. To his credit, he kept himself ready, kept himself in shape. He kept himself mentally ready to go. He didn't play all year, and here's (Indianapolis defensive end) Dwight Freeney. The next week, here's (Denver's) Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The man's done a great job. It's a tribute to his attitude and work ethic."