Ravens' Oher, Gaither face NFL's top pass rushers

"They are the best," Oher says of Freeney, Mathis

November 20, 2009|By Mike Preston

On one side is Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, possibly the top pass rusher in the NFL. If Freeney is No. 1, then the other Colts end, Robert Mathis, is No. 1A.

If there is any doubt, ask Ravens rookie right offensive tackle Michael Oher. The Ravens are asking Oher and third-year left offensive tackle Jared Gaither to take on Freeney and Mathis on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens face the Colts.

"The same things that make Freeney good make Mathis good," Oher said. "They are similar players. They are the best, and it's amazing how good both are. They are a deadly combination. They have every move in the book. They are relentless and haven't been stopped this year."

Freeney and Mathis are two of the major reasons the Colts are unbeaten in nine games this season. They give Indianapolis a major luxury. Most teams have to use five or six players to get pressure on the quarterback.

Because Freeney and Mathis bring so much heat, the Colts use only four and drop seven into coverage. The last team that did this so well against the Ravens was the Pittsburgh Steelers in last year's AFC championship game.

The Ravens will get another sampling Sunday.

"Their inside guys can rush, too," Ravens offensive line coach John Matsko said. "That's the big challenge for us. With those outside guys [Freeney and Mathis], you have to account for both of them."

Which one do you double-team?

"That's a good question," said Matsko, not giving an answer.

It's basically picking one poison over the other. Mathis and Freeney have similar builds. Freeney is 6 feet 1 and 268 pounds while Mathis is 6-2 and 245 pounds. If you had to classify them, they both would be termed speed rushers, but they both can bull-rush.

And they can use the swim move or the arm rips. Both have lethal spin moves, but Freeney has that Tasmanian move of spinning one way, and then reversing it. He breaks a lot of ankles.

"Both are quick, fast, explosive, sudden-change all-out-effort guys," Matsko said. "They are very similar, and they take pride in what they do. They study offensive tackles to take advantage of them. They've got all the moves. They've done a great job of sharpening their crafts."

Freeney has 9.5 sacks this season, and Mathis has 8.5. Mathis has hurried quarterbacks 19 times this season while Freeney has done so 16 times. Freeney usually draws the double-teams.

Freeney has 80 sacks in eight seasons with the Colts, and Mathis has 62 in seven. Together, they have forced 70 career fumbles.

Gaither and Oher have played against top performers before, but never against such a dynamic tandem. Oher, the first-round pick out of Mississippi, played a solid game against the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen earlier this season. Overall, he has had a fine season but still needs to become more technically sound.

Gaither tends to get overextended and sloppy at times, especially by holding. But considering that he suffered a neck injury in Game 4 against the New England Patriots, which forced him to miss two other games, he has practiced and played extremely hard since returning for Game 7 versus the Denver Broncos.

The Ravens will probably double-team both players at various times, and you can slow both of them with screen and draw plays. A lot of teams believe they can run on Freeney and Mathis, but they get so low that they can work leverage on a lot of tackles who can't bend much.

They cause problem after problem.

"They are both five-star players," Oher said. "We [he and Gaither] talk a little bit about stuff here and there, but we just got to get after it. We got some stuff in place, and we'll know more about it Sunday. We have to be technically sound and fight for 60 minutes."

Freeney and Mathis are always prepared for a long battle.

"They are tremendously relentless," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The thing that's so interesting about those two guys is that at the end of the game - I don't know where they find it - but they raise their level on the last drive or two of the game and apply the most pressures and make plays that have made a difference ... in games."

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