Dallas to Test Protection


One week ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to M&T Bank Stadium tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL's most sacks with 45.

The Ravens held the Steelers to only two in that 13-9 loss, while Dallas brought down New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning eight times.

All season, Baltimore has faced some of the NFL's finest pass rushes, but Saturday's matchup against the Cowboys might be the best.

Head coach John Harbaugh said his team is up to the challenge once again.

"I don't know if it's tougher than what we saw last week, pass rush-wise, but it's every bit as tough," Harbaugh said when asked to compare the Steelers and his upcoming opponent. "The Cowboys have one of the best pass rushes in football.

"It's a little different type of a scheme. Same basic front, though, same type of talent, and that's going to be a big priority for us. If we can protect the quarterback, then we'll have a chance to throw the ball."

With 19 sacks and two games to play, Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is the lynchpin of Dallas' tenacious group of quarterback hunters, which also features fellow linebacker Greg Ellis and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, each of whom boasts seven sacks.

Ratliff, who was recently voted to his first Pro Bowl, even has 28 quarterback pressures.

In all, the Cowboys have 13 players with at least one sack.

"They're mobile up front," said center Jason Brown. "There isn't a guy on their D-line that is much over 300 pounds. They're going to be active, and they're going to run games up front. You definitely have to have great communication in a hostile environment."

True, the Ravens will not meet a friendly welcoming committee. The Dallas faithful is expected to show up in droves for an emotional final game at the revered Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys have posted 29 of their league-leading 53 sacks.

And, each of their seven home contests has been a multi-sack game, including four-, seven- and eight-sack performances in the last three dates.

"They're playing well, and they're starting to get into a roll," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who was quick to express confidence in his protection. "Our offensive line has been playing great all year. I think last week they did a good job against the Steelers rush, and this week we expect them to do the same."

Brown, left tackle Jared Gaither, left guard Ben Grubbs, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Willie Anderson form a line that has started together in seven of the last nine contests. In the two games that did not feature all five regular starters, versatile tackle and fourth-year Raven Adam Terry was the one to step up.

A key to Baltimore's success in the nationally-televised showcase on NFL Network is Gaither, who will primarily draw Ware as an assignment.

Gaither said he was suffering from effects of the flu Wednesday and is still nursing a right shoulder injury sustained Nov. 16 against the Giants. Each week since then, Gaither has been extremely limited in practice, but he always managed to suit up each weekend and perform at a high level.

The Ravens are hoping for more of the same in Dallas.

"I think he's had a courageous season, and the shoulder is getting better as he goes now, so he's bringing the other arm into it more than he has," Harbaugh said. "He's done a great job in rehab."

"My arm is better," Gaither affirmed. "When I couldn't really use my arm, I relied on faith, heart and my other teammates to help me through it. I don't think it was an obstacle, I think it will eventually help me out.

"[Ware is] a great player," he continued. "I'm looking forward to playing him."

Now, with the chance to earn a playoff bid by winning their last two games, the Ravens know keeping Flacco clean in the face of Dallas' ferocious pass rush is imperative.

Flacco has been sacked 25 times this season, a number everyone in Baltimore would like to keep stagnant.

"This is probably the best defensive line that we'll face all season," explained wideout Derrick Mason. "But, this is probably the best offensive line they're going to face all season. It's going to be a sight to see – their four against our five.

"I take our five."

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