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OWINGS MILLS — In a blur of movement that resembles a muscle-bound speed skater bounding forward, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is capable of dashing past even the most skilled blockers.
Besides contending with the formidable spin move and upfield burst of an elite pass rusher, the Baltimore Ravens have an extra reason to be concerned.
All-Pro left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who will be responsible for blocking Freeney and protecting quarterback Steve McNair’s blindside during Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, remains questionable with a hyperextended left big toe and acknowledged that he’s unlikely to be at his full capability.
Although Ogden returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since getting hurt Dec. 17 against the Cleveland Browns and missing the final two regular season games, the 10-time Pro Bowl selection was limited in team drills.
“I don’t feel 100 percent right now, but I feel a lot better than I did,” Ogden said. “Progress is still going pretty good. I probably won’t be 100 percent, but I’ll be ready to go Saturday.
“I pretty much can do just about everything, but I can’t absorb a lot of pressure hitting people just yet. With adrenaline and a few more days, you’ve just got to go. You’ve got to find a way.”
Especially when it comes to blocking Freeney, a 6-foot-1, 268-pound athlete who will be giving up eight inches and 78 pounds to the 6-9, 345-pound Ogden.
Freeney only has 5 ½ sacks this season as teams have concentrated heavily on taking advantage of the NFL’s worst-ranked rushing defense. While defensive end Robert Mathis has racked up a team-high 9 ½ sacks, Freeney remains a constant threat.
He exploited Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Jordan Black for two sacks and a forced fumble last week in the Colts’ 23-8 wild-card win.
“He’s fast obviously, but it’s more his initial get-off,” Ogden said. “He’s so quick. That’s the problem. He covers two yards so fast and it’s his spin move that you have to be aware of. We’ve got a good game plan. We’re going to give him different looks and keep him and the rest of their defensive line on their toes.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m happy the game is here. I don’t think any offensive tackle would want to play him or Mathis on their turf with that noise. At home, I think it’s to my advantage.”
Freeney has 46 ½ career sacks in five seasons, including two sacks in a 2004 win over Baltimore at the RCA Dome where he sprinted past Ogden. During a 24-7 Colts victory over Baltimore last season, Freeney was held without a sack and had three tackles.
“I didn’t play great or have trouble, but it wasn’t great,” Ogden said, referring to the 2004 encounter.
“Last year, I know he didn’t have a sack.”
Freeney possesses uncanny athleticism. He bench presses nearly 500 pounds and has covered 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, blending the strength of a power lifter and the speed of a running back.
“Dwight is an unusual guy in that he plays a unique position,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “He plays a position where it’s usually bigger guys, taller guys who have succeeded. He’s not the prototypical defensive end, but he’s got speed and strength and power.”
Conversely, Ogden has nimble feet that belies his massive dimensions. He consistently shadows defensive ends and blitzing linebackers, preventing them from penetrating the backfield. Plus, he’s one of the biggest football players in NFL history.
“It’s going to be a real tough matchup,” Freeney said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters who cover the Ravens. “Jonathan is an All-Pro, Hall of Fame offensive tackle and one of the best in the game.
“He’s won some battles. I’ve won some battles in the past. It’s going to take a complete effort for every single play for four quarters.”
The Ravens willl probably employ some chip-blocking strategies on Freeney with Ogden not completely healthy. They’re likely to use tight ends and fullback Ovie Mughelli to fan out to try to get a piece of Freeney. 
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has given up on single-blocking Freeney, always resorting to double-team attention in passing situations.
Freeney has worried many offenses to the point of distraction, disrupting quarterbacks because they’re too mindful of whether he’s breathing down their neck.
“I don’t think it’s all about speeding up my process because there’s no way you want to rush any throw,” McNair said. “You don’t want to get your mechanics all messed up. You can’t get up there worrying about, ‘Where’s Freeney? How close is he to me?’ I’m just going to play my game.”
Meanwhile, Ogden won’t be intimidated by Freeney as he has handled some of the best sack artists in the league over the past decade and rarely been beaten. His teammates are counting on another strong performance.
“J.O. is not too bad himself,” tight end Todd Heap said. “Hurt or not hurt, there aren’t many guys that can play like he can.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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