McClain's availability alters Ravens' offensive operation

Fullback Le'Ron McClain's availability for the Ravens' showdown with the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers could impact how the offense operates Sunday night.

After the two-time Pro Bowl fullback left the second quarter of the team's 17-10 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a left ankle sprain, rookie tight end Dennis Pitta lined up at that spot because the Ravens have no other fullbacks on the roster.

Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that a healthy and effective McClain fills a variety of roles.

"The fullback position's a lot of positions," Harbaugh said. "It's fullback, it's a wing, it's a balanced, two-by-two formation, it's trips, it's a movement position, and Le'Ron does all those things. Obviously, you do the things with the position that the guy does best."

Listed at 6-feet and 260 pounds, McClain opens lanes for tailbacks Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, plows ahead during short-yardage situations, and catches passes out of the backfield.

Tight end Todd Heap said McClain's absence alters the offense's game plan.

"I think the biggest thing was, it changed up our personnel groups, and we don't run a lot of the same plays out of different personnel groups," Heap said after Sunday's win. "There's some plays that are similar, but the offense just changes completely without our fullback in there."

Fans have been clamoring to see both Rice and McGahee in the backfield at the same time, and another possibility is using the 5-foot-11, 222-pound Jalen Parmele as a fullback.

Harbaugh did not shoot down either possibility.

"Some of our other running backs can play fullback, so we've got some other options," he said. "When you've got a week to prepare for that possibility, we'll have more things up this week."

Another option could be rookie tight end Ed Dickson, who was inactive Sunday due to a hamstring injury.

"We might," Harbaugh said Monday of possibly seeing Dickson return to the field. "It's a hamstring, so you've just got to wait and see how it goes. I thought we had a chance to get him Sunday, so there should be a good chance of getting him back this week."

Washington's deactivation explained

Harbaugh explained the team's decision to deactivate cornerback Fabian Washington, saying that the coaches wanted to ensure depth along the defensive line against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their tailback duo of LeGarrette Blount and Carnell Williams.

"[T]he idea was to get an extra defensive lineman up," Harbaugh said Monday. "We were going up against a team that was more of a two-wide receiver, three-wide receiver set. We felt like if we got jammed up, we could play [cornerback] Cary [Williams]. And Cary's a special-teams guy, where Fabian is not as much of a special-teams guy. We just really wanted to get an extra defensive lineman for the running game."

Rookie Arthur Jones, who had been deactivated through the first 10 games of the season, was activated to replace Washington, who had not been a healthy scratch since Nov. 11, 2007.

Washington, who had lost his starting role to Josh Wilson after the win against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 7, vowed to return to the field.

"It's no biggie to me," he said Sunday. "We won. We're 8-3. I do plan [to] keep pushing. Like I said, I'll be back on the field at some point."

Jones gets in the game

Speaking of Jones, he entered the game on the Buccaneers' fourth offensive series of the contest, playing in about five snaps. Although he did not register a tackle, Jones was excited about the opportunity.

"It felt great," the fifth-round pick said. "The preseason is one thing, but when you're out there and the stands are filled, it's an unbelievable feeling. I'm hungry for more, and it felt good to get that first play out of the way. I just can't wait for my next opportunity to see how much better I can get."

Jones said he would have to review the film with defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to find out how he performed, but he sounded cautiously optimistic that he fared well in his debut.

"I think I did all right," he said. "I can get better every time I get out there. I think I did decent for my first time out there, but I'm not satisfied. I had a couple of blown plays, but it was fun."

Defense clamps down on Freeman

Josh Freeman's rise in the NFL took a little tumble Sunday evening.

The Ravens limited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' precocious quarterback to just 17-of-37 passing for 162 yards and a lone touchdown in the Ravens' 17-10 victory. Freeman, 22, set a season low with a 45.9 completion percentage, and his passing yards and passer rating of 67.6 were the second worst of his season, and at one point, he completed just 4-of-16 passes spanning the first three quarters.

"We had to rush him out and flood him out of the pocket a time or two," said defensive end Cory Redding, who was credited with one quarterback hurry. "We just wanted to get him off the mark and put pressure on him, and I think we did that for the most part."

Sweep no easy task

The Ravens have an opportunity to sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since 2006 when Pittsburgh visits M&T Bank Stadium Sunday night.

The Ravens have had four other chances to sweep the Steelers, but fell short. It's easier said than done, according to Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"It ain't just Pittsburgh," he said after the team's 17-10 victory over Tampa Bay kept the Ravens tied with the Steelers at 8-3 and in first place in the AFC North. "It's very hard to sweep a team in the NFL. But it has been done, it can be done. Like I said, we'll be ready to play the game on Sunday night. No game is won on paper."

End zone

Cornerback Chris Carr said Buccaneers safety Corey Lynch blindsided him during a punt return when Carr wasn't near the developing play. Carr, who said he got the wind knocked out of him and that his hip was sore, returned on the next defensive series, but he lobbied the league to fine Lynch. … Harbaugh said he would have to review the film to see if it warranted a response from the NFL. … The Ravens' decision to keep running back Matt Lawrence on the team's physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list and end his season was based on a knee injury that hasn't healed as planned and not due to roster concerns, Harbaugh said. … Talib's interception in the second quarter snapped quarterback Joe Flacco's streak of 426 throws at home without an interception — a span of seven contests. He hadn't been intercepted at M&T Bank Stadium since Nov. 22, 2009 when Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett stepped in front of a pass intended for Rice.