Maybe what the Ravens have been missing recently on offense is a little dose of nastiness up front.
Maybe what they've been missing is right guard Marshal Yanda.
That seemed to be the opinion of the coaching staff, which inserted Yanda into the starting lineup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in place of Chris Chester, who had started every other game this season. Yanda, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound bruiser from the University of Iowa, was originally slated to be the starter this season, but his recovery from major knee surgery was slower than hoped and he lost his starting spot. Yanda played tackle for two games after Jared Gaither went down with a neck injury against the New England Patriots in week four, but he has the mentality and build of a guard.
Against the Steelers, having Yanda inside helped the Ravens open holes, which allowed the team to rush for 138 yards in a 20-17 overtime victory. The Ravens used Chester in several situations, bringing him in as a part of their Jumbo formation, in which an extra lineman takes the place of a tight end.
Nastiness "is just a part of being an offensive lineman," Yanda said. "You have to embrace that and take it to the game. To have to be physical and just get after people. That's what I like doing. That's football to me, a lot of contact."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Yanda's injury last season, which required reconstructive surgery on three major knee ligaments, was difficult for Yanda because it isolated him from the team's success in 2008.
"When guys get hurt in this league, you sometimes forget about them," Harbaugh said. "They go back and they rehab and they're forgotten about, and in some ways they don't feel like they're a part of the team. But they are, and they're around every day, as much as they can be. Marshal has been through that for a whole year but got back probably from an ACL sooner than most people would, and now he's back in the mix. He really has been all year, and he's starting to play at the same level that he did when he got hurt against Indianapolis last year."
Chester said the coaches told him they felt Yanda gave them some advantages, and that while it bothered him, he wasn't going to make a fuss.
"I think it's just human to have something like this be on your mind," Chester said. "I wish I could be in there, to have the opportunity to play guard, but the coaches have made their decision, and I'm just going to go with it. If I want to get a chance to play, I'm going to have to go out there [to practice and games] and do my best. ... I've felt good about the way I've been playing. I've felt like I've been doing a good job, and I say that with great humility. It's their decision to make, and they thought they'd get an advantage with Marshal in there."
Yanda said he didn't think his knee injury was really holding him back at the beginning of the season but that he wasn't going to dwell on it.
"It felt great in training camp and during the first part of the season," he said. "But that's just the way it goes. I'm not going to look at the past. I'm just happy to be out there now. As an offensive line, I thought we played pretty well [against Pittsburgh]. But we can make some corrections and get a lot better, too."
A touch of nerves
Lardarius Webb didn't appear to have any rookie jitters when he made his first career start against the Steelers, but inside he was definitely nervous. However, he had a little help keeping calm.
"Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, they made the game so much easier for me during the week," Webb said. "When I went out there to play ball, it was just to have fun. Everything I saw, we had already gone over. I had butterflies in my stomach, but I have butterflies before any game I've ever played. If I didn't have butterflies, I couldn't play good. I'll always have them. Once you get out there though, it's just football. In the end, you either know how to play or you don't."
In limited action, Webb has proved he can play. But he knew he was going to be tested. On one play in particular, when Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace appeared to have him beaten on a deep route down the middle of the field, he showed he is fast enough and skilled enough to recover from a mistake. Though Wallace had a half step on Webb and Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon threw a pass that could have resulted in a touchdown, Webb made up ground and at the last second got a hand in between Wallace's hands to break up the play.
"I had in my notes all week, 'Wallace going deep.' " Webb said. "I had it in my notes with a circle around it. I knew he was going to go deep, I just didn't know when. And when he went deep, I wasn't ready for it. He has some speed on him, and he got a step on me. So I said: 'Well, here we go. It's me versus him.' I closed on him, and I was there to make it a hard catch. I don't think I made a perfect play on the ball, but I was there. And that's the kind of effort I always want to give on every play."
The 12-year veteran is tied for third in the league in interceptions with seven, ranks second on the team in tackles with 60 and has helped Green Bay force 27 turnovers, second only to the New Orleans Saints (32).
Woodson, who has returned six interceptions for touchdowns since 2006 (which leads the NFL), has caught the attention of the Ravens' wide receivers.
"He's a cagey veteran," said Mark Clayton, who had seven catches for 129 yards in the victory over the Steelers. "He looks fast, he looks fresh after 12 years in this league. We know that he's seen a lot, and when you've seen a lot, you have great anticipation. Anticipation is so huge in this game, especially defensively, because you react to everything.
"Offensively, I know where I'm going and I know what I'm doing, so I can try to manipulate the defense. But if the defender can anticipate because of his knowledge, it becomes a real chess match and you have to really be fundamentally and technically sound. Just knowing that he has a lot of knowledge and understanding just from being out on the field, it challenges you mentally and your fundamentals and techniques."
'Punting a brick'
After the Packers enjoyed respective temperatures of 47 and 53 degrees in their past two home games against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 15 and the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 22, the weather forecast is calling for temperatures dipping into the teens for Monday night's game against the Ravens.
Aside from a discomfort standpoint, frigid temperatures can make life difficult for kickers and punters. The football becomes heavier, shortening the distance it will travel.
"It makes the ball real hard, and that doesn't provide the amount of distance that you're used to," punter Sam Koch said. "It's like punting a brick."
Koch said ball boys tend to carry warm packs in their pouches to soften the footballs a little bit, but aside from that, there's really no relief.
"You just do what you've got to do," he said. "It's not fun, but it's something you've got to do."
Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.