Maybe what the Ravens have been missing recently on offense is a little dose of nastiness up front.
Maybe what they've been missing is right guard Marshal Yanda.
That seemed to be the opinion of the coaching staff, which inserted Yanda into the starting lineup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in place of Chris Chester, who had started every other game this season. Yanda, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound bruiser from the University of Iowa, was originally slated to be the starter this season, but his recovery from major knee surgery was slower than hoped and he lost his starting spot. Yanda played tackle for two games after Jared Gaither went down with a neck injury against the New England Patriots in week four, but he has the mentality and build of a guard.
Against the Steelers, having Yanda inside helped the Ravens open holes, which allowed the team to rush for 138 yards in a 20-17 overtime victory. The Ravens used Chester in several situations, bringing him in as a part of their Jumbo formation, in which an extra lineman takes the place of a tight end.
Nastiness "is just a part of being an offensive lineman," Yanda said. "You have to embrace that and take it to the game. To have to be physical and just get after people. That's what I like doing. That's football to me, a lot of contact."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Yanda's injury last season, which required reconstructive surgery on three major knee ligaments, was difficult for Yanda because it isolated him from the team's success in 2008.
"When guys get hurt in this league, you sometimes forget about them," Harbaugh said. "They go back and they rehab and they're forgotten about, and in some ways they don't feel like they're a part of the team. But they are, and they're around every day, as much as they can be. Marshal has been through that for a whole year but got back probably from an ACL sooner than most people would, and now he's back in the mix. He really has been all year, and he's starting to play at the same level that he did when he got hurt against Indianapolis last year."
Chester said the coaches told him they felt Yanda gave them some advantages, and that while it bothered him, he wasn't going to make a fuss.
"I think it's just human to have something like this be on your mind," Chester said. "I wish I could be in there, to have the opportunity to play guard, but the coaches have made their decision, and I'm just going to go with it. If I want to get a chance to play, I'm going to have to go out there [to practice and games] and do my best. ... I've felt good about the way I've been playing. I've felt like I've been doing a good job, and I say that with great humility. It's their decision to make, and they thought they'd get an advantage with Marshal in there."
Yanda said he didn't think his knee injury was really holding him back at the beginning of the season but that he wasn't going to dwell on it.
"It felt great in training camp and during the first part of the season," he said. "But that's just the way it goes. I'm not going to look at the past. I'm just happy to be out there now. As an offensive line, I thought we played pretty well [against Pittsburgh]. But we can make some corrections and get a lot better, too."
A touch of nervesLardarius Webb
didn't appear to have any rookie jitters when he made his first career start against the Steelers, but inside he was definitely nervous. However, he had a little help keeping calm.
" Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, they made the game so much easier for me during the week," Webb said. "When I went out there to play ball, it was just to have fun. Everything I saw, we had already gone over. I had butterflies in my stomach, but I have butterflies before any game I've ever played. If I didn't have butterflies, I couldn't play good. I'll always have them. Once you get out there though, it's just football. In the end, you either know how to play or you don't."
In limited action, Webb has proved he can play. But he knew he was going to be tested. On one play in particular, when Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace appeared to have him beaten on a deep route down the middle of the field, he showed he is fast enough and skilled enough to recover from a mistake. Though Wallace had a half step on Webb and Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon threw a pass that could have resulted in a touchdown, Webb made up ground and at the last second got a hand in between Wallace's hands to break up the play.
"I had in my notes all week, 'Wallace going deep.' " Webb said. "I had it in my notes with a circle around it. I knew he was going to go deep, I just didn't know when. And when he went deep, I wasn't ready for it. He has some speed on him, and he got a step on me. So I said: 'Well, here we go. It's me versus him.' I closed on him, and I was there to make it a hard catch. I don't think I made a perfect play on the ball, but I was there. And that's the kind of effort I always want to give on every play."