From 2001-07, Ravens center Matt Birk!(/team/roster/matt-birk/f7490078-5e55-4d88-adfc-334ae2919b31/ "Matt Birk") faced off against massive Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers twice a year.
At that time, Birk was a member of the Minnesota Vikings and Rogers was part of their NFC North rival, the Detroit Lions.
Birk's familiarity with the three-time Pro Bowler will be key to the Ravens' success – and that of quarterback Joe Flacco!(/team/roster/joe-flacco/3e20766f-6520-4ca1-9901-44389aaea8b8/ "Joe Flacco") – this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Oh, I've seen Shaun about 12 times," Birk said. "You have to pack a lunch. There's no secret. He's a big, powerful man that can single-handedly disrupt your offense. He's one of those special players. You have to just battle him the best you can."
Big and powerful may not do Rogers justice. He is listed in the Browns' media guide at 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, but stories abound of Rogers' weight escalating much higher than that periodically throughout his career.
How does Birk, all 6-foot-4, 309 pounds of him, compensate for the difference in girth?
"When you're giving away a lot of weight and some power, technique is crucial because you'll get overpowered pretty quickly," Birk explained.
It is not simply Rogers' bulk that makes him such a talented player.
Rogers is one of a select few nose tackles around the NFL that disrupt that passing game as well as they stop the run. Rogers is coming off a season where he notched 4.5 sacks, a rare number for an interior defensive lineman. In 2007, the Texas product totaled seven with the Lions.
When Rogers went to Cleveland last year in a trade for cornerback Leigh Bodden and a third-round draft pick, he joined an elite class of defensive tackles in the AFC North.
Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers is a perennial Pro Bowler, while the Ravens' Haloti Ngata!(/team/roster/haloti-ngata/9225ada6-37a5-4b66-9776-1b6e4df2fb50/ "Haloti Ngata") and **Kelly Gregg** are widely regarded as two of the league's most underrated tackles.
"Those are guys that love to defend the run and can transition to the pass as good as anyone," said Ravens offensive coordinator **Cam Cameron** of his AFC North opponents. "Some guys are strictly run-stoppers, but this group is special. As you saw in the preseason, if one of those guys hits your quarterback and lands on top of him, something's going to [get knocked] ajar.
"We have to do anything we can to keep him away from Joe."
BIrk has seen those types of players before, however. As a six-time Pro Bowler, Birk routinely held his ground against elite competition.
"Nose tackles are always big, but there are big nose tackles in this division," Birk said. "That's just the way it is, but I've seen those guys before."
Thus far, the Ravens have done well against the pass rush. Flacco has only been sacked twice, once each in matchups with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.
But neither of those defenses featured a player of Rogers' caliber. The Chiefs are transitioning into a 3-4 unit, and San Diego's typical starting nose tackle Jamal Williams is on Injured Reserve with a triceps injury.
"Our offensive line is doing a great job right now pass-protecting and run-blocking for the backs," Flacco said. "They're giving me the time to find receivers and not letting those rushers get into the backfield."
Rogers currently boasts 10 tackles and one sack after only two games, helping the Browns' passing defense rank seventh in the NFL by allowing only 174.0 yards per game (Cleveland also lets up 205.5 yards on the ground each week).
The overall numbers may not be gaudy, but from a player perspective, the Browns have the potential to create problems. Cameron called Cleveland's defense the "most physical group [the Ravens] have seen all year."
And that starts up front with the mountainous Rogers.