Birk v. Wilfork one of many interior battles Ravens must win

It seems on a weekly basis that Matt Birk must face a formidable opponent staring at him from the other side of the line of scrimmage.

That's why the Ravens center barely blinked when asked about Sunday's matchup with New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the AFC championship game, which will be the fourth contest between the two in the last three years.


"He's an awesome player," Birk said of the four-time Pro Bowler. "He's as good as all of the accolades. He's just a powerful guy, a real smart guy, though, too. He has great feel for when you're leaning one way or another. Knows how to get the edge on you and use his strength on you. As usual, I'll have my hands full."

Wilfork has amassed 15 tackles and one pass breakup in those three meetings, but he has yet to register a sack or forced fumble. Wilfork said he won't underestimate the 35-year-old Birk.

"He's the leader on that line," Wilfork said Thursday during a national conference call. "Things start around him on the line. He hasn't slowed down — not to me. I think he's still playing at a high level, and he's been playing [well] through all of his years. I don't think he's lost a step, so I've got to play like that."

Cameron praises Flacco

According to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, there were only six plays from the win over the Texans where quarterback Joe Flacco didn't receive a "plus" grade from the team's offensive coaching staff.

Cameron, who boasted about being a hard grader, said Flacco's biggest issues during the game were footwork and ball security. Flacco fumbled once, but left guard Ben Grubbs pounced on it.

"He played at an extremely high level against a very good defense," Cameron said. "Again, that's through my eyes, and those are the eyes — and his, us collectively — those are the ones that matter to us, because we know what we are trying to get done."

Cameron said that there were 12 plays in the game where Flacco either audibled into the "exact audible that he needed" or made the right decision in a play-call package with multiple options.

"Joe is a big part of our style," Cameron said of his Ravens offense. "This division is a Fu Manchu kind of division. It's not a clean-shaven one for sure. We've got a style, and we like it."

Reed still slowed

Free safety Ed Reed was the only Ravens player listed on Thursday's injury report.

The eight-time Pro Bowler was limited in practice for the second straight day by the left ankle injury he sustained in the waning seconds of the team's 20-13 win against the Houston Texans in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff round.

The New England Patriots, the Ravens' opponent in Sunday's AFC championship game, released a lengthy injury report headlined by the return of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady, who did not practice Wednesday because of an injured left shoulder, fully participated in Thursday's session.

Cornerback Kyle Arrington (foot) and center Dan Connolly (groin) fully practiced for the second consecutive day.


Nine starters were limited for the second straight day. They were: wide receivers Wes Welker (knee) and Deion Branch (knee), linebackers Rob Ninkovich (hip) and Brandon Spikes (concussion), safeties Patrick Chung (knee) and James Ihedigbo (shoulder), left guard Logan Mankins (knee), right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot) and defensive tackle Kyle Love (ankle).

Tight end Aaron Hernandez (concussion) also practiced on a limited basis for the second consecutive day.

Pagano hopes to get Suggs more involved

Terrell Suggs may be one of the leading candidates for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, but the Ravens outside linebacker has been somewhat quiet lately.

Since recording three sacks, three forced fumbles and five tackles in the team's 24-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 11, Suggs has totaled just one sack and one forced fumble.

He has totaled 18 tackles and two pass breakups, but defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said the coaching staff must do a better job of finding creative ways to help the five-time Pro Bowler get to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Sunday's AFC championship game.

"We know whether they keep one of those guys in and chip him before they release, a back or a tight end, slide extra protection to him," Pagano said Thursday. "We have to come up with some things to negate that."

Informed that several Patriots offensive linemen have said that they don't double-team opponents, Pagano replied, "If they do, that's great for us. If that's their plan, but I don't believe that to be true."

Baltimore Sun staff writer Matt Vensel contributed to this article.

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