On paper, it looks pretty intimidating. The Tennessee Titans' defensive line recorded 39 1/2 sacks this season, the highest total posted by an NFL front four. And the Titans played in only two games this season in which they didn't record a sack.
Baltimore, though, was one of those games in which the Titans defensive line couldn't bring down the other team's quarterback. Joe Flacco, in fact, is the only quarterback the Titans played this year whom they didn't sack, because they pulled down the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning the second time the two teams faced off. Flacco wasn't exactly stellar in the meeting Oct. 5, going just 18-for-27 for 153 yards with two interceptions, but the Titans still managed to only eke out a 13-10 victory over the Ravens.
"Our offensive line has been doing a great job all year, and they were doing a great job leading into that game," Flacco said. "I wasn't really surprised by it. We've been impressed by these guys all year - a young group of guys that have gone in there and just fought and came out on top week in and week out."
The Titans would like to get to Flacco this time and give their secondary a little more margin for error. The Ravens, of course, have other ideas.
Both teams like to run the ball, but both teams are pretty adept at stopping the run, so whichever team protects its quarterback better might be the one that moves on to the AFC championship game.
"We like our offensive line," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We think their defensive line is maybe the strength of their team. They've got a great defensive line, so we've got our hands full."
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch practiced together this week for the first time in a long time and weren't shy about expressing the excitement they feel about getting back on the field and chasing after Flacco. Vanden Bosch has been out since mid-December with a groin injury. Haynesworth has been held out of practice with various nicks and bruises incurred during another Pro Bowl season.
"I've been in hibernation for a month," Haynesworth told the Associated Press. "The grizzly's hungry, and he's ready to eat. ... We've got to get after [Flacco]. We've got to hit him as many times as we possibly can." We've got to make him uncomfortable. We've got to make him realize he ain't welcome in our stadium and just knock him down as many times as we can."
Haynesworth, though, was held in check the first time the teams met, mostly by Ravens guard Ben Grubbs, who drew praise from the Titans' coaching staff after the game.
"They're a really good defense, and we respect them," Grubbs said. "We know we have to be on our P's and Q's when we play them. It's tough to block [Haynesworth], especially when he's motored up and coming full speed, but he doesn't do anything different that our guys like Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg. You just have to get good leverage and keep your feet moving."
Modell's place in the Hall
Harbaugh took a few minutes after practice yesterday to speak with former Ravens owner Art Modell, who was at the complex watching the team from his wheelchair. Modell, who wasn't a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, has had a friendly relationship with Harbaugh since he was named the Ravens' head coach.
In Harbaugh's opinion, it's a bit of a disappointment that Modell doesn't look as if he'll be voted into Canton anytime soon.
"There's no question in our mind that Art Modell should be in the Hall of Fame," Harbaugh said. "If you look back at his history and his record, and what he accomplished for the NFL as the NFL was becoming what it is today, nobody made a bigger contribution."
Jim Leonhard, radiohead
This is the first season that NFL defensive coordinators have been allowed to have radio contact with a defensive player on the field, similar to the way offensive coordinators can talk to quarterbacks. But you might be a little surprised to learn which defensive player coordinator Rex Ryan talks to.
It's not Ray Lewis. And it's not Ed Reed.
It's actually safety Jim Leonhard.
At least that's been the case for the past six games. The Ravens originally gave a radio helmet to Lewis, but he got in so many violent collisions, the team couldn't keep it working. They next gave it to Reed, but the Pro Bowl safety felt it was too much of a distraction. The next logical person was Leonhard because he can see the entire field.
"It just worked out best for us as far as calling the signals with Jim doing it," Harbaugh said. "It's the most efficient way for us to do it."
Ravens kicker Matt Stover didn't kick yesterday to rest his injured right ankle, but he expects to play tomorrow.
"I kicked well" Wednesday, Stover said.
"If it still hurts, it hurts."
Tight end Todd Heap (back) and Reed (knee, illness) did not practice but plan to start tomorrow.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason (shoulder) returned to practice yesterday, and defensive tackle Justin Bannan (foot), cornerbacks Samari Rolle (thigh) and Fabian Washington (neck), and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf) were limited for a second straight day.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.