Ravens Brace for Line Test

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The last time the Ravens faced the Pittsburgh Steelers, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked a season-high five times. Nobody in the Baltimore locker room thinks there will be a sequel of that performance when the Steelers come to M&T Bank Stadium this weekend.

In fact, head coach John Harbaugh could barely recall how many times Flacco dropped to the turf in that 23-20 overtime Ravens loss.

"Didn't we talk about that last time after the game?" Harbaugh said when asked about the Steelers' sacks. "I think we talked about the last game after the last game. The last game was like 14 weeks ago, so it doesn't matter. We're different."

Whether the coach could or wanted to remember that Monday night contest on Sept. 29, he is correct. The Ravens' offensive line has improved mightily over the course of the season through some real adversity.

A unit that began the year as the NFL's youngest starting group lost right guard Marshal Yanda to torn knee ligaments, has seen right tackle Adam Terry work through an ankle injury and is constantly monitoring left tackle Jared Gaither's injured right shoulder. Willie Anderson, a 13-year veteran, was abruptly added to the roster two days before the season opener and had to undergo a crash course in Ravens football.

And, this all occurred after 11-time Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden retired in the offseason.

Still, Baltimore's front wall has pushed through those difficult times. The unit is currently ninth in the league in sacks allowed and a driving force behind the fourth-ranked rushing attack.

"I feel as though we've climbed through adversity," said center Jason Brown. "How many guys do they have on IR? How many guys do they have that are banged up? It's a lot that we're fighting through right now. In order to do those things, we've had to come together. We've had to be tight as a team."

The Ravens will have to be on point against a Steelers team that is tied with the Dallas Cowboys with a league-best 45 sacks.

Pittsburgh, under longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, is adept at bringing pressure from varied angles to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

Facing such a test has Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron paying particular attention to his offensive line.

"Our blocking unit, we're going to have to do a better job in some areas, obviously, than we did the last time we played them," Cameron said.

"We're better. How much better, I don't really know at this point."

One of the driving forces behind the Steelers' pass rush is linebacker James Harrison, who is currently third in the NFL with 15 sacks on the season. A squat 6-foot, 240-pounder, Harrison unloaded on the Ravens with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in that first matchup between these two teams.

Harrison, who was briefly with the Ravens in the 2004 offseason, has 28 tackles, six sacks and four forced fumbles in his past three meetings with Baltimore.

"Well, you've got to account for him," said head coach John Harbaugh. "He's got a knack. He's got a combination of explosiveness, leverage, speed. He's fundamentally a very good player. But the way he's built, he just leverages pass blockers really well, and I think he applies technique and power in a way that just makes him tough to block."

The barrage goes beyond just Harrison, however. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a career-high 11.5 sacks, while Aaron Smith boasts 4.5 and Lawrence Timmons adds 4.

The Steelers have posted at least a sack in all but one game this year, and five games have seen five or more sacks, including the Ravens' contest.

"They make it hard to [protect the quarterback] because each and every week they find something new to throw at you," said wideout Derrick Mason. "So we've just got to be mindful of what they're doing and make the necessary adjustments during the game to keep our quarterback on his two feet."

That job does not simply fall on the shoulders of the offensive linemen. The Ravens have also been keeping Flacco clean with an emphasis on the running game to keep defenses honest, while using multiple formations to keep extra blockers in for help.

In addition, Flacco believes the offense as a whole is more comfortable operating at a quicker pace when pressure is applied.

"We're on a better page with our receivers and our running backs, and the way we run the ball is going to keep guys from pressuring us too often," Flacco said. "We've grown as an offense and we do so many things better now. We're a much different team, and we're ready to go show that."

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