The Ravens' offensive line began the season as the NFL's youngest starting unit, but it will have to play like a group of seasoned veterans this weekend against the New York Giants' ferocious defensive front.
New York is adept at making things uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks by applying tremendous pressure from its defensive line, especially the prolific tandem of Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.
Both bookends have combined for 13.5 sacks this season, picking up the slack from the , and a season-ending injury to Osi Unenyiora (13) and retirement of Michael Strahan, who posted nine sacks in 2007.
"They get after it," quarterback Joe Flacco said of last year's Super Bowl champions. "They're the defending champs and they've been playing well. They've been playing like that this year. They like to put pressure on the quarterback and try to force him to make mistakes.
"We're going to go out there and concentrate on playing our game and doing what we've been doing the last four or five weeks."
Flacco has stayed relatively clean this year, especially for a rookie. He has taken only 17 sacks through nine games in the face of some of the league's premier pass-rushers.
Pittsburgh's James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley totaled four sacks against the Ravens, while Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth were shut out. Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney did not drop Flacco, even though fellow end Robert Mathis did three times.
Last week, Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, who has eight on the season, was held in check against the Ravens.
Despite several strong performances from Baltimore's offensive line, not one lineman feels as though the unit has put it all together.
"I wouldn't say that we're unstoppable because we never can have the feeling that we've arrived, no matter how well we're doing lately, because we still feel as though the best days are ahead of us," said center Jason Brown. "It's all about a mindset. Our offensive line, we haven't been respected as much as we would have like to be the past few years, and we're definitely trying to change that."
Respect could come if the line can keep the Giants off Flacco.
The pass rush is led by Tuck and Kiwanuka, but New York certainly has other weapons that can get in the backfield.
Backup defensive end Dave Tollefson has 3.5 sacks to his credit, and talented defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield pair up for 7.5.
The Giants' 30 total sacks currently rank third in the league, and most of those have come without blitzing a linebacker, as most teams like to do.
"I think the key is the way they play collectively as a defense," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "The back end helps the front end by making them hold the ball. The front end can then give pressure and make the ball come out quicker than they want it to."
But the Ravens are not treating this game as more important than any other. In fact, it seems the line is welcoming the challenge of further bolstering its reputation.
"It's the toughest test just because it's the next opponent," explained guard Ben Grubbs. "They've got great players at each position, so it's going to be a challenge. These are the games I live for. I love that adrenaline rush when you're facing an opponent like this."
For the first time this week, wideout Derrick Mason was out on the practice Friday after separating his shoulder last Sunday against the Texans.
Mason donned a red non-contact jersey as he ran through individual drills and reached for passes to feel out his injured left shoulder.
Head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens will wait until game time to make a decision.
"He went through practice, I wouldn't say full-speed," Harbaugh stated. "He's just a little sore. I'd say he's working through the injury right now. He looked OK for practice. We'll see how he is for Sunday on Sunday."
On Wednesday, Mason adamantly stated his desire to play.
"I think right now if I can play, I'll play," Mason said. "And if I can't play, I'm going to play. So we'll see how it goes."
Meanwhile, starting right tackle Willie Anderson has not practiced all week and was seen Wednesday with a boot on his left ankle. Anderson is also being considered on a wait-and-see approach.
Click here for the full injury report.
With two smashmouth styles battling at Giants Stadium, Harbaugh is aware of the public excitement for Sunday's contest. "I think it's a game that people are looking forward to watching, because you have two teams that do play good, sound, fundamental football," he stated. "And throwing the football is fundamental football, too. But [it will be] two teams that like to run, two teams that stop the run, two teams that are going to need the passing game, probably, to make a difference in the game. So it will be a fun game to watch." … If Anderson cannot play, rookie Oniel Cousins could see time in the Ravens' jumbo package. "He's made a lot of strides in the last two or three weeks," said Harbaugh. "He's improved tremendously. We think he's ready to help us if we had to put him in there." … Through a fan vote, linebacker Ray Lewis was named the GMC Sierra Defensive Player of the Week. … The Ravens-Giants matchup was named the "Throwback Game of the Week" on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's official Web site. Click here to read more.