Baltimore Ravens

Freeney, Mathis will be tough on home turf


avens offensive tackles Michael Oher and Jared Gaither won the battle last time, but the Indianapolis Colts won the war.

Round 2 begins Saturday night when Gaither and Oher meet Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in an AFC semifinal, only this time the game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium instead of in Baltimore.


Advantage: Mathis and Freeney.

"I've never played in Indianapolis Stadium," said Oher, the Ravens' rookie right tackle who will match up against Mathis. "But I did play in all the SEC stadiums, and they are pretty loud, too. There is nothing you can do about the crowd noise. Being on the road in the NFL is a big help to the home team. You just got to focus in on the ball."


The Oher and Gaither versus Freeney and Mathis showdown is one of the major story lines of the week, even though Gaither (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and was clearly bothered by the injury during practice Thursday. He did not look like someone who would be ready to play in two days. If he can't go, the matchup will tilt heavily in the Colts' direction. Freeney and Mathis have faced the Ravens six times each, including in the postseason three years ago. Freeney has two sacks and Mathis has five sacks, four forced fumbles and two recovered.

Freeney is the Colts' all-time sack leader, with 84, and Mathis is No. 2, with 61. But in a meeting against the Ravens on Nov. 22, they were shut out. None. Zero. See ya. Bye-bye.

Afterward, Freeney mumbled about being double-teamed often. Two days ago, Oher agreed with Freeney. But we all know better. On that particular Sunday, Oher and Gaither basically handled Freeney and Mathis man-to-man. They got those big paws on the little defensive ends and constantly shoved them out and up the field past quarterback Joe Flacco.

It was one of the biggest upsets since Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali, which is why everyone was talking about it again this week.

"They played a good game," Mathis said of their previous encounter. "You can't take anything away from them. The young guys play with a lot of heart and passion, so it'll be a good matchup."

If Freeney and Mathis are having a good day, it's impossible for the Ravens to beat them. The plan of attack is simple. Because Freeney weighs only 268 pounds and Mathis 245, the Ravens have to run either up the middle or straight at the defensive ends. The Colts have way too much speed to attack the perimeter.

On passing situations, the Ravens would like to be able to handle Mathis and Freeney one-on-one as they did in Baltimore, but that's highly unlikely given Gaither's injury. The crowd noise will help the Colts, because the offensive linemen won't be able to hear the snap count.

They have to rely on the snap of the ball, or first movement from a defensive player.


"Those are bigger guys, and they do a good job at what they do," Freeney said. "They run the ball the majority of the time. They like to leave a lot of guys in when passing to protect and give Flacco more time to throw the ball. I don't really anticipate them leaving those guys one-on-one."

So, it's good that Mathis and Freeney have put in extra time this week studying Oher and Gaither.

"Any normal game you do a lot of film study," Freeney said. "Obviously, now with this being an even bigger game, you want to find and look for little tendencies. I think every team has that. Every play has some tendencies. You have to really take advantage of that when you go out there.

"My strengths are quickness and speed. You just have to know what kind of guy you are going against. I focus in on where he places his hands and how he likes to set and what kind of strength does he have. Those aspects are more important than how tall or big a guy is. As a defensive lineman going against whomever, you have to have some sort of game plan during the run or during the pass."

Mathis has 39 tackles this season, including 9.5 sacks. Freeney has 31 tackles and a team-leading 13.5 sacks.

In games in which Freeney has a sack, the Colts are 51-11.


He has beaten some of the best in the game, especially in Indianapolis, where he once embarrassed Ravens great Jonathan Ogden with two sacks and several hurries. Earlier this season, Oher said the Indianapolis tandem is the best in the game. He hasn't backed away from that statement.

"People say we played well in that game because we didn't give up any sacks, but the running back, fullback and tight end all played a part in it," Oher said. "I've got to give credit to everybody. You see, I'm not that good yet."

Oher has gotten the Colts' attention, but Lucas Oil Stadium can make a difference. Aside from the crowd noise, the turf might be a little harder, creating a faster track.

"Normally, myself and Dwight, who are smaller, speed guys, match up better with big, burly guys. So it'll be an interesting matchup," Mathis said.

And does he have an advantage playing at home?

"I certainly hope so, because it's our home," Mathis said. "Yeah, it's a faster surface, so we'll try to use that to our advantage."


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