Between the two of them, there's a mounting body count of fallen quarterbacks decked by their relentless charge into the backfield. "They have all the tools," Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "They're strong, fast and they're physical. They have what it takes to get the edge on you." Now, the Ravens' retooled offensive line is tasked with walling off Harrison and Woodley to protect quarterback Joe Flacco during Sunday's season-opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
The two aggressive outside linebackers combined for 20 ½ sacks last season one year removed from generating a total of 23 ½ sacks and piling up 27 ½ three years ago to break the franchise's sack duo record. That surpassed the record of 24 combined sacks established by Jason Gildon and Joey Porter in 2000 and Kevin Greene and Joey Porter in 1994.
An intimidating former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison is a bullish power rusher who produced 10 ½ sacks, 100 tackles, six forced fumbles and two interceptions last season. And Woodley is a prototypical all-around outside linebacker who racked up 10 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumble and two fumble recoveries last season.
"They have two premier pass rushers on the same team," coach John Harbaugh said. "That makes a big difference. So, you can't really target a double team on any particular guy. They do a great job, not so much as creating free runners with their pressure package, but they create matchups.
"And they get all their rushes on all your different blockers at some point in time. Those two guys in particular are great leverage rushers. They do a great job with their hands and their leverage just working technique to beat a pass block." Woodley has registered 39 sacks in his first four seasons, the best start to a career in Steelers franchise history ahead of Porter and Chad Brown. Harrison is the lone player in franchise history to pose at least 10 sacks in three consecutive seasons.
"They are part of what makes that defense really good," Flacco said. "They have two guys on the outside that can really rush the passer and disrupt things in the run game. They do a great job of creating that opportunity and capitalizing on that, but we feel like we have the guys in place to take care of them. We all have to do our part."
Woodley has a trademark spin move that's extremely difficult to counteract. Overwhelming offenses, Harrison rips through blockers or he runs around them. "Obviously, they're big, they're strong, they're compact, and they're built," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "They're built to defend the run and be effective in pass rush. We're fortunate to go against some guys very similar to that every day." The Ravens are in the unenviable position of squaring off with Harrison and Woodley with limited preparation time.
Left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie signed with the Ravens after being cut by the Minnesota Vikings when he reported at 387 pounds. Down to 370 pounds, the 6-foot-8 former Pro Bowl lineman didn't play at all during the preseason. And Oher hasn't played right tackle since his rookie season.
"We're getting a lot of practice time,"Oher said. "As long as we get good reps every day, it will come. You can't worry about it. I look forward to it, I love the rivalry and playing against these guys and getting after each other." Oher isn't overly concerned. Neither are the Ravens'coaches or Flacco, at least not that anyone will admit. "We feel good about our tackles,"Cameron said. "We feel good about the men we have protecting. I feel great about where our tackles are going into this game."
Although it's difficult to provide chip-blocking assistance against both blockers and stay in maximum protection sets, the Ravens can use double tight end alignments. Plus, they have All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to lend a hand as an extra bodyguard for Flacco.
Flacco has been hit plenty of times against the Steelers in the past, but he emphasized that he's not worried.
"The thoughts are all good," Flacco said. "I'm not really concerned about it. We're going to go out there and play football and let those guys go play. I am going to have trust behind them. "I think we have a good group of guys together and that is the most important thing. We have the guys in the right spot, and they are all a good group of guys.
Notebook: Zbikowski to start for Ravens at strong safety
OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens strong safety Tom Zbikowski acknowledged that he has withstood a challenge from newcomer Bernard Pollard to remain the starter.
Zbikowski is listed first on the depth chart and is slated to start in Sunday's season-opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. "That's what we're looking to see," Zbikowski said. "We've got plenty of packages. We'll be rolling in and out. That's not necessarily what's going to be happening the entire game or the entire season. It's just where we're at right now. So, I'll just keep playing and keep getting better."
Zbikowski and Pollard split starting duties during the preseason. Zbikowski recorded four tackles, and Pollard finished with seven tackles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery with two pass deflections. Zbikowski was still declared the starter over Pollard, a former Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs starter who was signed to a two-year, $2.7 million contract.
"I don't know one specific thing or anything like that, but just going about my business like I always do," Zbikowski said. "Training, staying in the film room, just making sure I'm on top of everything, and, just enjoying playing football. I really think that's the biggest thing is just having fun and enjoying what you're doing every day." Zbikowski started six games at free safety last season when former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed was sidelined following hip surgery. Now, he'll open the season starting opposite Reed against the Steelers.
"It means a lot, especially going into this first game," Zbikowski said. "I've played them plenty of times, so it just feels good. It's something I've been looking forward to, to play alongside Ed and not necessarily just filling in for him all the time."
Even though he's not the starter at this time, Pollard figures to contribute as a blitzing presence on third downs.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder is a hitter with speed "You can bring him from almost anywhere on the field," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's a dynamic blitzer, he times up things. And he's a big guy. When he comes, we call him the angry man. He's coming mad. "Something is going to happen one way or the other. It may be good for us and bad for them, or vice versa, but he gives you a real physical presence down in the box."
CHALLENGED: Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace made it abundantly clear that he'll be targeting first-round rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith. "He needs to worry about us," Wallace told Pittsburgh reporters. "He just needs to be ready, because we're going to be coming at him. Man, we can take our shots deep on anybody. We don't discriminate." The Ravens plan to start two new cornerbacks in Smith and Cary Williams, a former practice squad player.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and 6-1, 182 pounds, respectively, Smith and Williams are big, physical cornerbacks. Wallace, though, has 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash. He caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, leading the NFL with seven 100-yard games.
"I think they're going to do great," Pagano said. "You know, they've put the time in. They've done a great job preparing; they're studying. I can't wait to see them go out there and play. They've got talent, they can run. So, I think they're going to do fine."
An All-American selection at Colorado drafted 27th overall, Smith is the prototype at cornerback with his blend of size, 4.4 speed and press coverage skills.
"Certainly, there's a reason we took him where we took him," Pagano said. "He's got the talent, he's got the athleticism. So, will it be perfect? No, no one plays a perfect game. So, there will be a hiccup here or there, but he'll be fine." Williams lined up against Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe during the preseason and held up well. And Wallace's remarks seemed to do nothing but motivate him further.
"That's great," Williams said. "They can keep talking. At the end of the day, you have to come between those white lines and play football. We're not going to say anything about them negatively. We're going to see on Sunday." The Steelers' speed is undeniable, though. Wallace averaged 21 yards per reception last season. Plus, Antonio Brown darted past Lardarius Webb for a key reception that set up the Steelers' game-winning score in a playoff victory over Baltimore.
"They can all fly," Pagano said. "I don't think I've ever seen guys in the NFL that can run as fast as these guys on tape," Williams said. "Their speed is impressive, but we're not backing down. We're going to come and play Ravens football each and every day, and each and every down.
"That whole comment about getting ready for them, I guess they've got to get ready for us, because they know what we're going to bring to the table each and every week."
PHILIPS SIDELINED: Backup middle linebacker Jason Phillips didn't practice Thursday due to a concussion. He's the lone player listed on the Ravens' injury report. It's unclear when Phillips got hurt, but it was likely Wednesday when he participated fully in practice.
None of the Ravens' injury concerns from the preseason are listed on the injury report, including center Matt Birk (left knee surgery), wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle), offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms), rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor (bruised left shoulder) and cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring). Meanwhile, Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) was downgraded to not practicing. He was limited Wednesday. For the past two days, reserve linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) hasn't practiced. Backup offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) was upgraded to full participation after being limited Wednesday.
INJURY SETTLEMENT FOR HARDY: The Ravens have brokered an injury settlement with veteran wide receiver James Hardy, removing him from injured reserve.
Hardy was with the Ravens during the preseason and played in the final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, catching one pass for eight yards.
GETTING READY: The Ravens brought in lefty punter Jeremy Kapinos for a tryout Thursday, but not because of any issue with Pro Bowl alternate punter Sam Koch. The Ravens regularly bring in left-footed punters to prepare for opponents' lefty punters. This week, they're preparing for Steelers lefty punter Daniel Sepulveda. So, they brought in Kapinos for the day to help their punt returners get accustomed to catching Sepulveda's left-footed punts.