Over the past three seasons, the Ravens' biggest problem offensively against Pittsburgh has been protecting quarterback Joe Flacco.
Now, the challenge is magnified because the first time the Ravens' projected starting offensive line will take a snap together in a game is the season opener against the high-pressure Steelers defense.
"We're going to make sure it's not a problem," coach John Harbaugh said after Monday's practice. "That's our jobs, all of us together, to make sure it's not a problem. We're playing on Sunday at 1 o'clock. We're not making any excuses. We know what they're going to do. They know what we're going to do. There'll be a few wrinkles here and there and we'll go play. I'm very confident in how we're going to play."
This offensive line — left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Ben Grubbs, center Matt Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher — has a combined 32 years of NFL experience. But this group hasn't lined up together in the preseason because of injuries and the timing of the signings.
Birk missed the entire preseason after having knee surgery Aug. 3. Yanda was sidelined for the last three preseason games because of back spasms. And McKinnie was signed by the Ravens on Aug. 24, which moved Oher from left to right tackle.
So, the only lineman who played at his season-opening starting spot for more than one game in the preseason was Grubbs.
Keeping the Steelers off Flacco hasn't been easy for the Ravens, even when no one was questioning the chemistry of the offensive line.
In the past eight meetings with the Steelers, the Ravens have allowed 28 sacks. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have combined for 12 of them, but Pittsburgh has had 10 players record at least one, which shows that this defense comes from all angles.
"It's not an ideal situation for us, that's for sure," Birk said. "It is what it is. That's the world we're living in right now. We'll work hard all week and study film and be as ready as we can for Sunday."
To make matters worse, the Ravens aren't sure whether Birk will be ready to start Sunday. Birk, who hasn't missed a start since 2005, described himself as questionable.
Asked if he expected to start against the Ravens' AFC North rival, Birk said, "I hope to. I'll just do everything I can to get ready. If I can't, I can't."
Birk said he has been able to do everything in practice "for the most part."
"It's kind of a funny thing," he said. "Sometimes it responds well and sometimes it doesn't. I just do everything I can to get it to feel good and get it to feel right."
Birk's status is a major reason why the Ravens signed Andre Gurode to a one-year deal Monday. Gurode, who went to the Pro Bowl the past five seasons, was recently released by the Dallas Cowboys. The Ravens didn't have to make a corresponding roster move because they get a one-game exemption with the suspension of wide receiver David Reed.
Asked if Gurode was signed to be a backup or starter, Harbaugh said, "I wouldn't want to define it. He's another good player on our team. It's just another guy that can play and it'll be our job to get him up to speed as quickly as we can."
Gurode practiced with the team Monday before leaving early to return home to pick up his belongings.
"I've admired him from afar for a long time," Birk said. "I can't believe a player like that was out there."
Harbaugh agreed that chemistry is important to the offensive line but …
"The better the players, the easier it is," Harbaugh said. "You cannot have good players and you can work together all you want, it's not going to be a good product. If you add good players, you have a chance to be better. It's going to take some time. It's going to a lot of work. I think it will be a work in progress into the season, but I like where we're going."
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