OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens fielded the same offensive line in their first three games. They won all of them.
Then injuries started happening, and the rapport the quintet established was no longer viable. Not entirely by coincidence, Baltimore lost four in a row to fall below .500.
Although the Ravens (5-4) have won two straight to take over first place in the AFC North, the shuffling of their offensive line remains a steady constant. After losing rookie guard Alex Lewis to a high ankle sprain, Baltimore will field a different offensive line for the eighth time in eight games Sunday in Dallas.
''Not ideal,'' coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. ''You'd like to have continuity with your offensive line - working together on those combination blocks, the calls, being on the same page.''
Center Jeremy Zuttah is the only player on the line to play the same position in all nine games. Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has missed three of the last four games with a shoulder injury; top draft pick Ronnie Stanley (foot) missed four straight starts at left tackle; and now Lewis will be lost for at least six weeks after being hurt in last Thursday night's 28-7 win over Cleveland.
It's a wonder quarterback Joe Flacco can still walk after operating behind a makeshift front that's yielded 20 sacks and created precious few holes for the league's 28th-ranked rushing attack.
''Anytime you have moving parts on a team it takes a lot of work together to get it right,'' Flacco said. ''But the guys in there are fighting, and that's all you ask for. It hasn't been perfect, and we've got to get better. I've got to be better at dealing with some things.
''At the end of the day, we're probably going to have to learn to live with one or two mistakes a game and expect to be good enough at the little things to overcome them. That's just where we are right now.''
Yanda participated in practice Wednesday and could return to face the Cowboys (8-1). Before his recent absence he played in 53 consecutive games.
''If you keep the same five guys for a long time, that's a real good thing. But the reality is that injuries happen,'' Yanda said. ''We're just trying to put the best five guys out there week to week. That changes sometimes.''
This year, it's happened a lot.
''You've just got to roll with the punches and do your job no matter what happens. That's just the sport,'' Stanley said. ''It's definitely easier to have someone you've been playing with because you build chemistry over a period of time. But people are going to get hurt, and you have to be ready for it.''
For the Ravens, it's next man up - at just about any time and on any place on the line.
''If you had your way, you'd have the same five guys out there,'' right tackle James Hurst said. ''But we've got a really good group that's willing to put in the extra time to make it work.''
In addition to playing special teams, Ryan Jensen has started twice at right guard and at left guard this season. He also stepped in last month after right tackle Rick Wagner was injured.
''Since I've been here we haven't had issues like this with injuries and stuff like that,'' said Jensen, now in his third year with Baltimore. ''But we've found a way to figure it out and get it tuned up. We've got a two-game winning streak, so we're getting there.''
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