Ravens offensive line facing injuries with Steelers coming to town

Pass blockers, including Oher, McClain, Chester, are banged up and blitz-happy Pittsburgh is coming to town

November 29, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn't in the mood to give the Pittsburgh Steelers an advance scouting report on his team's injuries on Monday.

"We'll just take a look at them, see how they respond over the next two days and see where they're at," Harbaugh said a day after Sunday's 17-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "That's all you're getting."

The Ravens' banged-up offensive line can only hope they can squash the Pittsburgh Steelers' pass rush as abruptly in Sunday night's showdown between the AFC North leaders.

With offensive tackle Jared Gaither already on injured reserve, the Ravens are dealing with two injured starters on the offensive line. Left tackle Michael Oher left the game in the third quarter with a sprained right knee, and Chris Chester missed his second straight game with a bacterial leg infection. If Oher and Chester are sidelined, Oniel Cousins would likely start at left tackle and Tony Moll would continue to fill in at right guard.

These are the most injuries that have hit the offensive line in the regular season (the Ravens had the same starting five linemen for the first nine games) — coupled with Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain's ankle injury — and they couldn't have come at a worst time. Blocking the high-pressure Steelers' blitzes is usually the key to beating "Blitz-burgh."

Since 2006, the Ravens are 4-1 against the Steelers when they allow two or fewer sacks.

"Whoever is in there, there's a standard of play that's expected," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "The one thing I know is: whoever the five guys are, we're going to work hard this week and play our butts off."

It was two months ago when the Ravens held their own against Pittsburgh's pass rush. The Steelers managed one sack (from nose tackle Casey Hampton) and hit quarterback Joe Flacco just two times.

Oher shut out James Harrison, and right tackle Marshal Yanda shut down LaMarr Woodley. Harrison and Woodley have combined for 16 ½ sacks this season.

"There's no magic formula," Birk said about slowing down Pittsburgh's pass rushers. "They're a great defense. They're a great team. They're going to make plays. You just keep plugging away. They'll be ready for us, and we'll prepare hard for them."

Pittsburgh's defense is tied for second in the NFL with 32 sacks. So, Flacco understands there will be moments when he has to avoid the rush or take a hit.

"No matter who you have in there on the offensive line, there are going to be times when they're going to get theirs and they're going to make plays," said Flacco, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 256 yards at Pittsburgh on Oct. 3. "We'll be ready for that no matter what. We'll do our things to make sure we game plan for it and protect ourselves."

The Ravens need to protect better than they did Sunday. Flacco was sacked four times, which tied a season high, by a Tampa defense that had struggled to put pressure on quarterbacks.

The first sack was the result of a communication error between McClain and Yanda. On the second one, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy split Moll and Yanda. The third sack occurred when running back Ray Rice let safety Sean Jones run up the middle after one hit. And the last one was McCoy beating Moll to the inside.

"Tampa threw some stuff at us that we don't see all the time," Yanda said. "Sometimes guys were out of position. We just have to do better. We don't want to give up any sacks at home."

Harbaugh praised Moll's versatility and said Cousins "held up" in pass protection.

"I thought they both played solidly," he said.

Oher is expected to play against Pittsburgh, but there are no guarantees. He was originally listed as "probable" to return to the game Sunday, and he tweeted during the fourth quarter Sunday that he would be ready for the Steelers.

But Harbaugh said Oher's status changed during the game, which is why Cousins finished at left tackle.

"[The team's medical staff] came back and told us that he wasn't going to be up for the rest of the game," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh said there is a "chance" that Chester could return to practice. That means there's a possibility that the Ravens could have all their starters back on the offensive line.

"It's nothing inside with the infection. That's fine," said Harbaugh on Chester's condition. "It's just the healing of the stitches."

Even if both can't play, the Ravens contend they won't panic. Cousins and Moll both played at Pittsburgh last season (Cousins started at right tackle and Moll played a few snaps there when Cousins was injured).

"We've been there before," Flacco said. "We'll get through it."

The Steelers have a bigger injury concern on their hands. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent tests on his sprained right foot Monday.

Roethlisberger finished Sunday's 19-16 overtime win at Buffalo, but he was 6-for-12 for 86 yards after halftime.

"My foot was in the ground and someone was driving me backwards and my foot couldn't get out of the ground, so my knee just got bent sideways," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to ESPN, Roethlisberger is expected to start against the Ravens. He will reportedly wear a walking boot to protect his foot this week and he could sit out practices to rest the injury.

But Roethlisberger isn't really a question mark, at least in the Ravens' mind.

"We'll prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense and prepare for the possibilities at quarterback," Harbaugh said, "but I'm assuming Ben will be there."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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