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Protecting Flacco critical to Ravens chances

The SportsXchange

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco remained on the move against Indianapolis Colts pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Flacco rolled outside of the pocket more often than usual during a 24-9 AFC wild-card victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

The strategy was an effective one as Flacco was only sacked once and hit twice. Flacco completed 12 of 23 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 125.6 passer rating.

"Yes, moving the pocket has been a goal of ours, and it's going to be important in this next game also," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Whenever you have great edge pass rushers, you need to move the pocket. They have been working hard on that, whether it's stepping up in the pocket making plays or stepping outside and making plays when the pass rushers lose contain and then keeping the play alive and trying to make some throws while he's doing that. Joe can run. He's faster than people think, so he can get out of there and run for some yards, too. Yes, it's something they have been working on."

Freeney had zero tackles or quarterback hits primarily rushing against left tackle Bryant McKinnie. And Mathis had five tackles and the Colts' lone sack when he was unblocked rushing against right tackle Michael Oher.

Now, the Ravens are bracing for an even tougher challenge heading into Saturday's AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos defeated the Ravens, 34-17, at M&T Bank Stadium in December, sacking Flacco three times.

Headlined by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller and Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos recorded 52 sacks for the season. Miller is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, ranking third in the NFL in sacks and second in the league with 28 tackles for losses. He forced six fumbles, tying him for third in the NFL.

And Miller had 27 quarterback knockdowns and 12 quarterback hurries. In just two NFL seasons, the 6-3, 237-pounder has 30 sacks.

As fast as most running backs and wide receivers with high 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, Miller is an ultra-athletic former Texas A&M star who finished the season with 18.5 sacks to rank first on the team ahead of Dumervil's 11 sacks.

"If you look at the combine time, he's as fast as most of all the backs," Harbaugh said. "Von Miller is a great talent, and he's emerging as one of the top players in the league."
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