The task doesn't get any easier for Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. In the first three weeks after taking over in his new role, Caldwell's offense faced off against defenses that ranked finished first (Denver) and third (Cincinnati) in the league in sacks.
Now preparing for the playoffs on Sunday, Caldwell has to scheme for two more elite pass rushers in the Colts' Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Both have been bothered by injuries this season, and their numbers are down. Caldwell, though, has coached both of them, and although their roles have changed somewhat in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense, Caldwell knows all too well the damage they can do.
" You look at those guys, for a number of years they were just a terror – the two of them, those two bookends," Caldwell said at his media session on Thursday. "They would give you so many problems, because the minute you got into a situation you had to pass a little bit more often than you would like, they would heat it up on you."
Freeney, 32, holds the Colts' franchise record with 107.5 career sacks, which ranks fifth among active players. He was bothered by a high ankle sprain for much of the early part of the season and finished the regular season with five sacks, his lowest total in six years. But he ended the season strong, with a sack in each of the last three games.
Mathis, 31, has 91.5 sacks, second in franchise history to Freeney. He missed four games with a knee injury, but leads the team with eight sacks and was just selected to the Pro Bowl for the fifth straight season. Mathis dropped then-rookie quarterback Joe Flacco three times in a 2008 game.
"Dwight is still as powerful and strong. He has developed even more of a power move along with that great spin game that he has, and he can still get up the field and run by you," Caldwell said. "Mathis, as usual, he does it all. He’s just a talented guy."
During the Ravens' late-season slide, strip-sacks of Flacco from edge-pressure were game-changers. Keeping Freeney and Mathis from creating similar havoc will be critical.
Caldwell said the run of elite pass rushers the Ravens faced late in the season from Denver, the Giants and the Bengals should serve them well as they prepare for the Colts' dynamic duo.
"We’ve had an opportunity to play against some guys here down the stretch," Caldwell said. "Denver ... had [Elvis] Dumervil, obviously, and Von Miller. We had an opportunity to go against the Giants who had some great rushers as well. These two guys are a little bit different in their style, but very, very, very talented.”