Ravens' O-line food fighters for Flacco

Thursday dinners give blockers incentive to protect QB

Eagles, though, have appetite for destruction

November 23, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

When the Ravens' offensive line faces one of its biggest challenges of the season today, part of its motivation can be traced to Thursday.

That's when Joe Flacco takes his closest 300-pound teammates out for their weekly dinner.

Feasting on steaks and seafood, the rookie quarterback and his on-field bodyguards have forged their camaraderie just as much at Ruth's Chris Steak House and T.G.I. Friday's as the locker room.

So if the sack-hungry Philadelphia Eagles want to take a shot at Flacco today at M&T Bank Stadium, they'll have to go through the equally hungry Ravens offensive line, whose main goal is to protect their new friend and meal ticket.

"Of course, women know the fastest way to get to a man's heart is through his belly," center Jason Brown said. "As offensive lineman, we're going to protect our source of food."

When the guys go out, the conversation is never about zone blocking or pulling guards.

They'll usually laugh about who messed up at practice or got yelled at in the meetings that day. The funniest part of the dinner, however, is when the bill comes.

The routine starts when one lineman says he left his wallet in the car. Another then acts as if he can't reach the money in his back pocket.

As the linemen continue to playfully scratch their heads, the check eventually makes its way in front of Flacco. "Don't worry guys, I got it," he typically says.

While most of the linemen do pitch in at the end, Flacco still picks up a bulk of the massive bill.

"It's a good time to hang out with the guys," Flacco said. "Believe me, I'm not going to go anywhere without those guys. They've done a great job all year. It's been a huge year for them and a huge plus for our offense."

If the Ravens (6-4) want to stay in the hunt for the AFC North title - they trail the Pittsburgh Steelers by 1 1/2 games - they need another huge effort from the offensive line against the Eagles (5-4-1).

Entering Week 12, Philadelphia was tied with Pittsburgh for the most sacks in the NFL with 36.

As the Eagles blitz linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks, the Ravens will try to thwart this full-throttle attack with an offensive line that is less than full strength.

This group, which has already lost right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) for the season, likely will be without left tackle Jared Gaither (questionable, shoulder). The projected starting tackles - Adam Terry at left and Willie Anderson at right - are playing on injured ankles.

"The health issues are a problem," coach John Harbaugh said. "The fact that we're playing one of the best defensive fronts in football with one of the most complicated schemes in football, that's a problem for us going into this game. We'll see how they respond."

The Ravens' offensive front has dealt with injuries throughout the season. Today's will be the fourth different starting lineup.

But the line has remained solid in pass protection, giving up 18 sacks this season (tied for 13th in the NFL).

Against five teams with defenses ranked in the top 10 in sacks - the Steelers, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders - the Ravens have allowed nine sacks.

"We've had tests before," Brown said. "We've been rotating a lot of guys in and out on the offensive line. The thing is we still have to perform somehow, someway."

As with the Ravens' defense, the strength of Philadelphia's pass rush is its unpredictability.

Fourteen Eagles have recorded a sack (second in the NFL to the New York Jets), which underscores the fact they come from every angle.

"We'll see how well [Flacco] recognizes a complex defense," Harbaugh said. "It'll be really a good challenge and a growth opportunity for Joe in this game."

Most young quarterbacks fail in their first test against the Eagles' defense.

Since Jim Johnson took over as Philadelphia's defensive coordinator in 1999, the Eagles have faced 12 rookie quarterbacks and defeated nine of them.

During that period, Philadelphia has held rookies to a 64.7 quarterback rating, allowing 11 touchdown passes while making 12 interceptions.

"Philadelphia brings it from a lot of areas," Flacco said, "so you have to make sure your eyes are up and you know where to go with the ball."

Flacco has shown he doesn't flinch when confronted with adversity.

Trailing by 14 points against the Cleveland Browns, he led a second-half comeback on the road. After throwing three interceptions in Indianapolis against the Colts, he didn't get picked off for four straight games.

But Flacco hasn't done it alone. If he wants to succeed, he knows exactly whom to feed.

"It's a brotherhood," Brown said. "If we take care of each other off the field, we're going to take care of each other on the field."

bad first impression

Joe Flacco is the 13th rookie quarterback to face the Philadelphia Eagles since 1999. The previous 12 rookies have gone 3-9 against the Eagles with a combined rating of 64.7. A look at how the others have fared:

Quarterback, team Yr. Yds TD Int Rating Result

McNown, Chi. '99 255 1 2 62.1 Loss

Carr, Hou. '02 188 2 2 69.3 Loss

Ramsey, Was. '02 213 3 0 110.7 Loss

Hutchinson, Dal. '02 128 0 1 59.0 Loss

Roethlisberger, Pit. '04 183 2 1 109.2 Win

Manning, NYG '04 148 0 2 16.9 Loss

Fitzpatrick, St.L. '05 69 1 1 45.8 Loss

Gradkowski, T.B. '06 104 0 0 60.4 Win

Young, Ten. '06 101 1 0 66.7 Win

Beck, Mia. '07 109 0 0 56.8 Loss

Edwards, Buf. '07 133 0 0 65.0 Loss

Ryan, Atl. '08 277 2 2 68.1 Loss

EAGLES (5-4-1) @RAVENS (6-4)

Today, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 45, 5

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 1 1/2

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