Offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher have faced their fair share of lethal pass rushers this season, shutting out the likes of the San Francisco 49ers outside linebacking duo of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons.
On Sunday, McKinnie and Oher get another test in defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis when the Indianapolis Colts visit M&T Bank Stadium. Freeney and Mathis lead Indianapolis in sacks this season with 5½ each.
“Those are their two best players on the team,” Oher said Thursday. “Everything goes through them. So we have to do our part because if we don’t do our part, we can’t get anything run. So we’ve just got to play fundamental football and get after it.”
McKinnie and Freeney have taken part in some classic battles dating back to their days in college. In their final seasons for the University of Miami and Syracuse University, respectively, McKinnie blanked Freeney, who failed to get a sack for only the second time in his last 19 contests.
Since then, however, Freeney has registered three sacks and six tackles in two career meetings with McKinnie when he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s been around for 10 years, and he’s still better than a good majority of the pass rushers in the league,” the left tackle said of Freeney. “He’s the type of player you’ve got to game-plan for to try to slow him down.
“His speed is one thing,” McKinnie continued. “He’s a defensive end who can run at the same speed as DBs. Still going forward, he’s able to hit you with that spin move, and he has the bull rush incorporated into his game. There’s a lot of different stuff, and he’s very balanced. He’s able to keep everything in control. He’s not out of control when he makes his moves.”
Oher and Mathis have a much briefer history, but in 2009 – Oher’s rookie campaign – the right tackle allowed Mathis to make four tackles but no sacks in the Ravens’ loss to the Colts in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
“He can spin, he can run around you, he has all kinds of different things,” Oher said. “You’ve just got to play with technique and play ball.”
The onus is on McKinnie and Oher to prevent Freeney and Mathis from applying too much pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens might counter by asking a teammate to chip Freeney or Mathis, but that pair will draw a fair amount of attention on Sunday.
“They’re great players. They still are,” Ravens 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, [and] 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.”