Improved Ronnie Stanley Is Looking Forward To Rematch With Steelers' James Harrison

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Steelers linebacker James Harrison was able to drive before Ronnie Stanley was born.

And in their first meeting earlier this season, the veteran took the youngster for a ride.

Stanley had the worst game of his season against Harrison in Week 9. The Ravens' No. 6-overall pick allowed three hurries and one sack, which Harrison used to strip quarterback Joe Flacco and give the ball to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Sunday's game in Pittsburgh is an opportunity for Stanley to show just how far he's come this season. The Ravens were criticized for making such a "safe" pick on draft day, but now Stanley is doing an excellent job keeping Flacco safe on Sundays.

"I'm very excited," Stanley said. "I'm excited to play in this rivalry game, period."

The Week 9 meeting was Stanley's first game back after he missed four games and five weeks because of a foot injury. He was still shaking off the rust.

Combine that with the task of blocking Harrison, and it's a tough assignment. Harrison has given many Ravens offensive tackles fits over his 14 years in the AFC North. In 28 career games against Baltimore, Harrison has a whopping 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

"I'm pretty sure he was almost in the league before I was born," Stanley joked.

"I think [my Week 9 performance] had to do with both it being my first game back and him being who he is as an opponent. It didn't help me out in any way. That's just how it is when you come back from injury and face a guy like that."

Ever since that game, Stanley has steadily improved. He hasn't allowed a single quarterback hit since, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Over the last five weeks, Stanley has yielded just seven quarterback hurries. He's also been a force in the run game.

Want video evidence? Check out these two plays from the last two weeks:

"I think that the one thing he has been able to work on is being more physical at the point of attack and really getting after people," Flacco said. "I think he is doing a great job in that."

A major part of why Stanley has played so well as the season has gone on is that he's just plain talented. There was a reason why the Notre Dame product was the No. 6-overall pick.

But there's also a good amount of credit due that falls outside of natural talent.

Stanley's week-by-week improvement is a testament to the steady kind of player teammates and coaches have raved about. Stanley isn't flashy or loud. Like the Ravens said when they drafted him, he's a worker.

"You talk about a kid with his head in the right place and willing to get better and willing to work, and doing all the right things – he is that guy," Flacco said.

"He is smart. He works very hard. He does not make the same mistake twice, usually," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He can improve on things from one week to the next when you give him areas of improvement that you are kind of targeting. He does a good job of that."

Last year, the Ravens played (and won) both games against the Steelers with James Hurst as their left tackle. Hurst also started in Pittsburgh in the 2014 wild-card playoff win. Veteran Eugene Monroe was injured for all three contests.

This year, Stanley returned from a foot injury to face the Steelers, even though, as he admitted later, he wasn't 100 percent. And now he goes into Sunday's game as the trustworthy left anchor the Ravens have long been searching for.

"Ronnie is one of those select few, as a rookie, to be able to do what he has done," Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "Sometimes a rookie plays really well and then steps back to be able to go forward. He has not done that. He has played at a high level on a consistent basis."

Stanley said that has been his focus all year long. Get better and don't go backwards. And, so far, it's worked. Now he can prove it on Christmas against the Steelers.

"He is only going to get better," Harbaugh said.

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