Ravens' offensive line faces Colt's speed rush

OWINGS MILLS -- There's another few heats scheduled for Sunday night's track meet, and these encounters don't involve the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts' skill athletes.<br><br> Between the fast-twitch speed rush of undersized Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and the possibility that Baltimore (8-5) might be forced to throw more than usual if it falls behind, protecting quarterback Kyle Boller is an imperative task for the Ravens' offensive line.

Freeney and Mathis have emerged as twin masters of disaster, combining for 23 ½ sacks as Indianapolis (10-3) ranks second in the NFL with 41 sacks.

A 6-foot-1, 268-pound starting right end with 4.5 speed over 40 yards, Freeney leads the NFL with 13 sacks after recording three in a 23-14 win last week over the Houston Texans.

Freeney is also extremely strong in the weight room, and has surprised some tackles with his ability to bull rush despite his lack of bulk.

"He might be the fastest person off the ball in the league right now, either him or Jevon Kearse," Ravens All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "As far as pure speed, he has to be right there. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I have to meet it.

"I'm in his way. He's in my way. I have to block him. There's no way around it."

The Ravens have allowed 33 sacks, including four last week in a win over the New York Giants when a blindside hit on Boller led to a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown. That was Boller's second fumble lost for a touchdown in the past three games, and he leads the NFL with seven lost fumbles.

"I'm just glad I have Jonathan Ogden watching my back," Boller said.

Boller has more to worry about than just Freeney, though.
A 6-2, 235-pound nickel pass-rushing specialist, Mathis has 10 ½ sacks. The former small-school standout at Alabama A&M usually lines up wide and bursts upfield before angling into the pocket toward the quarterback.

Mathis has managed to overcome his lack of size with outstanding leverage. He plays with a low pad level, and takes sharp pursuit angles. He recorded a sack last week rushing against 6-8, 317-pound Texans right tackle Todd Wade.
Sunday at the RCA Dome, he'll be hit with the tandem of 6-7, 365-pound Orlando Brown and 6-6, 330-pound Ethan Brooks.

"They're fast off the ball upfield and it seems like all they worry about is sacks, and I worry about not giving up sacks," Brown said. "Mathis is short, and football is a leverage game. With the noise, I'm going to have to watch the snap of the ball instead of going off the count. It's going to be a lot to handle, but that's what I get paid to do."

Freeney and Mathis' combined sack total represents more than the output of the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.

The Colts' defensive line has generated 37 of the team's 41 sacks, aiding coach Tony Dungy's heavy reliance on zone pass coverage. Besides Freeney and Mathis, defensive tackle Montae Reagor and end Raheem Brock have posted 5 and 5 ½ sacks, respectively.

"Robert and Dwight are leverage players," Dungy said. "They're stronger than people think. Speed and quickness is their game, but it's not just speed and running around people. We've never really thought that playing against big guys was that much of a problem."

Anticipate that Baltimore will use some form of chip blocking and maximum protections along with a steady diet of running plays directed at the defensive ends.

The Ravens are also of the belief that Freeney and Mathis don't concentrate much on stopping the run.

"Boy, if you get behind, they turn those babies loose, because there's not a dime in a player's contract that says if you stuff the run, you get a bonus, but there's a … load of money for sacks," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "When they get that opportunity, you can run for 1,000 yards, they don't care.

"They're going to want that sack, and when they have that mind-set, you better watch out. Particularly, when that speed upfield doesn't worry about that run inside."

NOTES: Boller was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time after delivering a career-high four touchdown passes in the Ravens' 37-14 win over the New York Giants. It was rare validation for an oft-criticized quarterback, but he didn't gloat.

"It's a great honor," Boller said. "It shows that hard work pays off."

…The Ravens are extremely healthy with only running back Jamal Lewis (ankle) and linebacker Bart Scott (knee) listed as questionable. Seven players are probable, including cornerback Gary Baxter (hand), defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu (leg), wide receiver Clarence Moore (shoulder), offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo (illness), nickel back Deion Sanders (foot), linebacker T.J. Slaughter (head) and running back Chester Taylor (thigh).

…Rookie quarterback Josh Harris, the team's promising sixth-round draft pick from Bowling Green, was signed off the Ravens' practice squad by the Cleveland Browns. With three quarterbacks already, the Ravens didn't promote the Ohio native to the active roster to protect him.

"I was very surprised to get that phone call, especially from Cleveland," Harris told reporters Wednesday. "I think it's a good opportunity for me or else I wouldn't have taken it."

…Rookie offensive guard Brian Rimpf was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad, and the team signed center/long snapper Drew Caylor and receiver Todd Devoe to the practice squad. Long snapper Mike Solwold was released.

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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