It's a matchup of mismatches.
When Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett lines up against Cincinnati right tackle Willie Anderson Sunday, they'll go another round in a clash of differing size, style and recent success.
It's a technician against a tank. It's hustle versus heft. It's hot against cold.
Burnett, who is completely healthy for the first time in four years, backed out of retiring earlier this year and stepped up to become the steadiest performer on the Ravens' defense this season.
Anderson, who is listed at 340 pounds, reportedly grew bigger along with his wallet after becoming one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the league this off-season, weighing down his effectiveness.
While Burnett is giving up at least 70 pounds to Anderson, Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan has seen the 11-year veteran handle heavy burdens before.
"I never even think about it," defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "He's got heart. The bigger the guy, the bigger the challenge for Rob.
"I don't care if a guy is 350 pounds, [Burnett's] technique is so good that he gets his hands underneath and he's not taking the brunt of the hit by those linemen. He hits them before they can hit him. So he beats him to the punch."
If the Bengals want to revive their stagnant running game, they'll need Anderson to budge Burnett. Last week at Jacksonville, a reporter determined that the Bengals' offensive line made forward progress on only 33 of the team's 69 plays from scrimmage.
Anderson, who signed a six-year, $30.6 million contract extension in May, was Cincinnati's best lineman last year, committing two penalties and not allowing a sack. But he matched that in one game, being flagged twice against the Jaguars.
Burnett, however, will receive his biggest test this season against Anderson. In the first three games, Burnett faced two rookies, Pittsburgh's Marvel Smith and Miami's Todd Wade, and a converted tackle, Jacksonville's Zach Wiegert."[Anderson's] got good movement for his size," said Burnett, who ranks second on the Ravens with 18 tackles. "He's got good strength. He's a prototype NFL right tackle. I put him one of the top players at his position, But there's a few guys up in there, though. He's definitely a good player. There's no lack of respect toward him at all."
Said Anderson: "Rob is not that big, but he plays with leverage and tries to go as low as you. My main thing is to pound you for four quarters. I'm trying to be the best right tackle in the AFC, and playing against Rob allows me to showcase my talents."
For all his prowess, Burnett was close to leaving the Ravens as well as the game.
Before last year's training camp, he had decided that he would honor the final year of his contract and call it quits. He would have had 10 years in the league and had endured enough pain in coming back from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his knee in 1996.
He had plenty of opportunities outside of football to pursue, from real estate to sports management. He is the co-owner of X-CEL Sports and Entertainment, a professional boxing management company that is run out of his home in New Jersey. He has six boxers ranked in the top 10 in the world and has had three fight for world titles.
Then, in the middle of last season, his body told him to reconsider. He felt 90 percent healthy and produced one of his best seasons as a pro. After recording 81 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks, he signed a four-year contract worth $14 million in February.
"This was totally my option," Burnett said. "It's something I don't regret. I'm still totally committed. I want to win a championship. That's what it's all about. That's what I'm here for."
Said Ryan: "He's a fierce competitor. This guy doesn't have to play anymore. He's smart. He can be successful at anything he chooses to do. The fact is, he wants to win. When I look around, nobody on the team wants to win more than he does. He's an unusual guy, there's no question."