LANDOVER - Sometimes, the inside games are better than The Game itself.
Jonathan Ogden vs. Bruce Smith. Bruce Smith vs. Jonathan Ogden.
It doesn't get a lot better than this.
On one side we have Smith, 37, an 11-time AFC Pro Bowl selection at defensive end and one of the game's most dominant defensive players ever with 174 career sacks. On the other side is Ogden, 26, a three-time Pro Bowl player at left tackle in his first four seasons who may retire one day as the greatest ever.
When the Ravens (5-1) travel to FedEx Field today to play the Washington Redskins (4-2), it should be the Ravens' toughest game of the season, and it might give a real indication of where the Ravens are compared with the rest of the league.
But a lot of attention will be focused on Ogden vs. Smith. It's one of the few matchups the Ravens can't afford to lose.
With center Jeff Mitchell out of the starting lineup with an ankle injury, the Ravens are forced to move right guard Mike Flynn to center and Kipp Vickers to Flynn's spot.
The Ravens will have other key matchups on the offensive line, with left guard Edwin Mulitalo against tackle Dana Stubblefield, Vickers against tackle Dan Wilkinson and right tackle Harry Swayne against Marco Coleman, the NFC's sack leader (nine); so the last thing they want to worry about is Smith beating Ogden off the edge.
If Ogden can handle or at least stalemate Smith, the Ravens won't have to worry about altering their formations and putting a tight end on that side, or chipping with a running back.
That help can be used elsewhere, or that player can be used in the passing offense.
Blocking Smith is a big task for a big man. An even bigger task for the 6-foot-8 Ogden, who has been nursing a severely sprained ankle the past two weeks.
"I've had a few minor setbacks," said Ogden, who missed last Sunday's game against Jacksonville and is trying to get fitted with the proper ankle brace for support. "I'm going to play, I'm at least going to try."
A healthy Ogden dominated Smith last year at PSINet Stadium when the Bills defeated the Ravens, 13-10. Smith left the game with one tackle, one assist, no sacks and a lot of frustration.
He found out what other premier defensive ends have known during the past five seasons.
Ogden now weighs 350 pounds. It's almost impossible to bull-rush him. When those long arms are extended, trying to run around him is like running around the world.
"Being 6-9 with his incredible size and being able to move as he can, that speaks for itself," said the 6-4, 279-pound Smith. "He is the premier tackle in the league."
But Smith is no lightweight either. He has had at least 80 tackles in seven of his past eight seasons and had 80 last year with seven sacks. He has 27 this season, with three sacks.
He may have lost a step during his 16 seasons in the league, but he still has a full repertoire of moves, from the vintage spin to the swim move.
Redskins defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes has rejuvenated his career a little by putting him on the outside or "edge" in the 4-3 defense compared with playing over the tackle in Buffalo's 3-4 base defense the past couple of years.
Smith is better in space.
"Bruce is experienced and fast," Ogden said. "He is just one of those guys who knows how to play the game; he knows how to study an offensive lineman and take advantage of their weaknesses. That's why you have to be technically sound when you play him. He is not going to overpower you, but have a breakdown, and he'll set you up to take advantage."
"He has good hands and good feet," Ogden continued. "You have got to be ready for anything. I played pretty well against him last year. I know he is going to be coming to get me after that one."
It's the perfect scenario for Ogden.
He played locally in Washington at St. Albans School. He used to pass RFK Stadium every day hoping he would be playing for the Redskins.
But today, he'll be playing against the Redskins. He probably won't have a chance to score the winning touchdown or deliver a game-saving tackle, but his play will have just as much impact.
It's Ogden against Smith. Smith against Ogden. The winner of the inside game will play a large part in determining the winner of The Game.