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Ravens offensive line bracing for DE Cameron Heyward, Steelers pass rush

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gives his thoughts on Sunday night's Ravens-Steelers game. (Childs Walker/Baltimore Sun video)

It’s a small sample size, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked only once in his past two starts, and he threw for a season-high 269 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 44-20 demolition of the Detroit Lions.

Some of the credit can go to an offensive line that appears to be gelling at the right time, but right tackle Austin Howard declined to say whether the unit is playing its best football.

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“There’s always room for improvement,” he said Wednesday. “We’re far from perfect, and we understand that. But we have been playing better as an offense collectively. So I think that helps out a lot. The tight ends and running backs, they’re all involved in protection. So we have utilized every person possible to ensure better protection for Joe and to keep him safe. We just have to keep it up. We’ve learned from the film, and we live in that moment, but we just have to keep rolling, and hopefully, we can keep that up.”

In contrast to the increasingly nasty feud between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, Ravens and Steelers players say their mutual distaste is anchored in respect.

Health has been a key ingredient for the line, which has employed the same formation of left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard James Hurst, center Ryan Jensen, right guard Matt Skura and Howard for four of the past five games. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said that group has developed chemistry.

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“It starts up front,” he said. “In fact, I was looking back at earlier in the year at a couple games, and we’re an awful lot better up front just from the reps and the fellows working together. So I think that’s a good point there, and it starts up front.”

On Sunday night, the offensive line will face a Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush that had four sacks in a meeting Oct. 1 that the Ravens lost, 26-9. Two came from defensive end Cameron Heyward, who leads that defense with a career-high nine.

“A couple times, we were off with our protection, and we have to clean those things up in terms of responsibilities,” Hurst said. “It’s understanding how he’s going to get to the quarterback. He’s a really powerful guy who’s going to play hard. He’s going to play through the whistle. You’ve got to have good leverage, good hands, and all-around technique.”

In addition to Heyward, the Steelers have four other players with at least three sacks, which explains why they rank second in the NFL with 40. Howard said the linemen understand the onus that awaits them at Heinz Field.

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“We don’t want to give up sacks,” he said. “We pride ourselves in opening holes for the running backs and keeping Joe clean. But I wouldn’t say that ups the pressure. Pressure is in every game and on every play, anyway. That’s our job, and that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

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