OWINGS MILLS – One false step and they’re gone, using a blur of acceleration to dash past blockers and barrel into the unsuspecting back of the quarterback.
Nobody applies the heat to quarterbacks like the Indianapolis Colts’ pass-rushing tandem of speedy defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the scourge of offensive tackles around the NFL.
They’re practically a two-man furnace, combining for 23 sacks during the regular season.
During Saturday night’s AFC divisional playoff game between the top-seeded Colts (14-2) and the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens (10-7) at Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s imperative that the offensive line provide a safe pocket for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Mistakes aren’t an option.
“They have all the tools,” rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “You can do everything right and they can still beat you. You have to fight for 60 minutes.
“You’ve got to do your technique and do everything right. They’re the best in the business in the pass-rush game. You got to trust what you do.”
During the first meeting with the Colts, the Ravens lost, 17-15, despite injuries hampering Freeney and Mathis as Flacco wasn’t sacked.
Mathis played roughly two dozen snaps and Freeney played even less.
Mathis had two tackles and Freeney registered zero.
Both are regarded as healthy this time with minor shoulder and foot injuries, respectively.
“You would assume they’re 100 percent,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They played sparingly in our last game, so we really didn’t get to see them a lot. I got to know them a little bit at the Pro Bowl last year, and the Colts for quite some time now have been one of the great pass-rushing defenses in probably the history of the league. So, we’ve got our hands full.”
The Ravens didn’t throw the football hardly at all during their 33-14 wild-card win over the New England Patriots.
With Flacco dealing with a hip contusion, the Ravens emphasized a bruising running game as they rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
Flacco threw just 10 passes, completing four for 34 yards.
During the first game against Indianapolis, he passed for 256 yards.
“He’s not really a mobile guy, he’s a pocket guy,” Mathis told Indianapolis reporters. “You’ve got to get him off his spot a little bit. Normally myself and Dwight, we’re smaller, speedy guys, we match up better with big, burly guys. It will be an interesting matchup.”
The Ravens will have a major size advantage with Oher and Gaither paired opposite Freeney and Mathis.
Oher is 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, and Gaither is 6-foot-9, 340 pounds.
Freeney is 6-1, 268 pounds, and Mathis is 6-2, 245 pounds.
Gaither isn’t exactly healthy, too, missing one practice this week with a right ankle injury.
“Those are bigger guys and do a good job at what they do,” Freeney said. “They run the ball the majority of the time. They like to leave a lot of guys in when passing to protect and give Flacco more time to throw the ball. I don’t really anticipate them leaving those guys one-on-one.
“Gaither’s bigger. I’m faster. My strengths are quickness and speed. You just have to know what kind of guy you are going against I focus on where he places his hands and how he likes to set and what kind of strength does he have. Those aspects are more important than how tall or big a guy is.”
The Ravens allowed 36 sacks during the regular season.
That includes a total of 10 during the final three games.
And the Colts piled up 34 sacks as a team, including 13 ½ from Freeney and another 9 1/ 2 from Mathis.
“We’ll have a game plan for obviously pass protection, and it starts with those two guys whenever you play the Colts,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re two of the best pass rushers in the game. It’s pretty amazing they’re both on the same team and they’ve got some other guys, too.
“They just present you challenges, and we’re just going to stick with our plan, stay poised, be patient, stick with good fundamentals and we’ll have a chance.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.