OWINGS MILLS – The winless Indianapolis Colts still have a formidable pass rush headlined by defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Speedy and explosive off the edge, they have combined for six sacks in their past four games against the Baltimore Ravens.
Each has 5 ½ sacks this season heading into Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium.
“They’re great players, they still are,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve got plenty of good players around those guys. That defense is very fast. We have not ever fared well against them since we’ve been here in 2008. We’ve turned the ball over, we didn’t run the ball on them, we’ve gotten sacked, we’ve had plays for negative yards. It’s been a theme against that defense. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We understand that.”
Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie are expected to get blocking assistance against the pass rushing tandem.
McKinnie has battled Freeney going all the way back to his college days, shutting the Colts’ star out when he was at Syracuse and McKinnie was at the University of Miami.
“Yeah, Bryant is probably one of my first marquee matchups,” Freeney said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “He did a great job. I had a bunch of sacks going into that game; he had never given up one. They ended up winning the game, and I ended up not getting a sack.
“From a historical standpoint, me and him go back, and I had a game with him when he was with the Vikings. I had a couple of good games against him. Bryant is Bryant, and there is a reason why he is still playing after 30.”
Freeney has three sacks in two games against McKinnie during his time with the Vikings.
The Ravens have allowed only three sacks in the past four games.
Freeney and Mathis are a tough matchup, though.
“Those guys get after it,” Oher said. “We know what they can do. We have to get them blocked and use our technique.”
The Ravens know what they’re facing and are plotting a strategy to slow down Freeney and Mathis.
“They have two of, maybe the best pass-rush combination, in the history of the game, but one of them,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Those guys, they are tremendous. They create problems. They are built for speed.
“They don’t stay blocked. They have a sound scheme. They get people to the ball and have two of the premier pass-rushing guys in the history of the game. What more could you want?”
GRUBBS BACK AT PRACTICE: One day after being held out of practice, left offensive guard Ben Grubbs participated fully Thursday.
Grubbs missed seven games earlier this season with a right turf toe injury.
Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff didn’t practice Thursday due to a left calf problem. That’s his plant leg that’s affected.
He practiced Wednesday.
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk didn’t practice for the second consecutive day.
Lewis has been sidelined for three consecutive games with a right turf toe injury and is expected to miss Sunday’s game.
Birk hurt his shoulder against the Cleveland Browns, but has downplayed the severity of the problem.
Cornerback Chris Carr (back) didn’t practice for the second day in a row and is expected to miss his third consecutive game.
Rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) participated fully.
The Colts upgraded linebackers Pat Angerer (knee) and Ernie Sims (toe) to limited participation after not practicing Wednesday.
Freeney participated fully after missing one practice for non-injury reasons.
Tight end Dallas Clark (fibula) participated fully and is on track to return after missing the past three games.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Mathis and center Jeff Saturday were rested.
Not practicing for the Colts: linebacker A.J. Edds (ankle) and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (groin).
Linebackers Pat Angerer (knee) and Ernie Sims (toe) were limited.
Participating fully: tight end Brody Eldridge (hand) and fullback Ryan Mahaffey (concussion).
RED-ZONE STRUGGLES: The Ravens have dipped to 22nd in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage.
They’ve scored only 19 touchdowns in 41 trips inside opponents’ 20-yard lines.
Whether they try quarterback sneaks with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice runs or throwing the football, nothing has been effective very often.
The Ravens have scored points on 90.2 percent of their trips to the red zone, but scoring is generally treated as a given. And Baltimore has settled for 18 field goals.
“I don’t think there are any excuses,” Cameron said. “We have to execute better, and we have gone against some good defenses down there. I’d say it’s that simple. We’ll execute better, and we have to make sure we can get that done in critical situations.”
The Ravens went 2 for 5 in red-zone opportunities against the Cleveland Browns, making their 24-10 win closer than it needed to be.
"A couple of the teams we’ve played lately are playing great red-zone defense, but that’s not going to be a reason for us not to do well,” Harbaugh said. “We did what we had to do the last couple of games down there. Heck yeah, we want to score more touchdowns down there all the time.”
The Ravens stumbled against the San Francisco 49ers on a quarterback draw from Flacco that appeared to be a busted play when no one got open.
The Ravens resorted to having Rice throw a touchdown to tight end Ed Dickson on a halfback option pass against the Seattle Seahawks.
“We have to execute better, just as a group in terms of touchdowns,” Cameron said. “We want to score touchdowns, but you have to come away with points, keep momentum, kick the ball off, put our defense back out there, don’t turn it over. Here down the stretch, we need to start getting more touchdowns. I think everybody understands that, and that’s what we’ll try to get done.”
QUICK HITS: All of Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff’s misses have come on the road this season, including a pair of misfires against the Browns in sloppy, windy conditions. “The surface at M&T Stadium is great,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “That makes a big difference for kickers. One of the things that people overlook sometimes, when they’re evaluating that concept, is the surface. They just look at the weather and say, ‘Well, there’s wind, and there’s cold temperatures. That means it’s a bad place to kick.’ That’s not necessarily the case. Now, when a kicker is trying to figure out how to kick a particular kick, if he can trust his plant foot, it makes a big difference. If he can’t trust his plant foot, then he’s got to make some adjustments. I think that’s probably the thing that you see at our stadium. The surface is good.” … Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the Browns. Here’s what Rosburg saw on the play: “Well, Lardarius made a great play to begin with. We got a number of good holdups at the line of scrimmage. Edgar Jones had a knockdown; it was really a physical block. Then, Emanuel Cook had a good holdup at the line and ended up getting his guy down field. It was a middle base return, so we were able to take care of the middle of it first. That created some space and that allowed him to get started. We had a number of good blocks at the top of the return, too.” … Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been working on the communication issues in the secondary that have plagued the Ravens in recent weeks. “It always comes down to, especially back there, if you make a mistake up front, it may cost you a yard or two,” Pagano said. “A guy gets hooked, three-technique gets hooked or knocked out of a gap, or a linebacker misfits, it means a couple yards. But back there, it could mean six [points]. So, just put a big point of emphasis on it like usual, and this week more than any, these guys are more than capable of beating you. They’ve done it before, and they’ve got big receivers outside and a tight end, so we’ve got to do a great job of communicating and being on the same page. If we do that, then we should be fine.”