Freeney has big test ahead



The cat-quick defensive end must contend with Baltimore tackle Jonathan Ogden.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Dwight Freeney relishes the opportunity to spin away from NFL tackles and track down elusive quarterbacks.
This week's test comes against two of the NFL's best: Jonathan Ogden and Steve McNair.
"It's about the guy who goes out there and has that 'A' game on," Freeney said. "It just brings out the best in me."
The showdown between last season's sacks champion and the perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Ogden could prove more than an intriguing subplot. It could dictate who advances from Saturday's divisional-round playoff game at Baltimore.
But statistically, this hasn't been one of Freeney's better seasons.
He's been banged up with a bad shoulder and a sore leg muscle and simply hasn't had many opportunities to showcase his pass-rushing skills because so many teams exploited Indianapolis' most glaring weakness: run defense.
After menacing opponents for four seasons with nifty spin moves, unparalleled quickness and an uncanny knack for forcing fumbles, Freeney finished with a career-low 5 1/2 sacks and missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since his rookie season.
Coach Tony Dungy thinks numbers alone don't reflect Freeney's true impact.
Despite being the Colts' most targeted defender, Freeney fought through an array of double-teams and even triple-team blocking schemes to produce 45 tackles, two short of his career-high.
Stepping up
But when it mattered most, in last week's playoff game, Freeney reverted to his old form. He had three tackles, two sacks, two more hits on Kansas City quarterback Trent Green and forced a fumble in a 23-8 victory that helped the AFC South champs advance to the second-round game.
That performance also correlated with the best defensive performance of the season for Indy (13-4).
"Dwight's played pretty well all year, and he hasn't had a lot of games like that," Dungy said. "You can't block him one-on-one all the time and not win a few."
Ogden is one of the few who has had some success against Freeney.
When healthy, Ogden is regarded as one of the league's top blockers. Next month, he'll make his 10th consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, and he's long been the anchor for Baltimore's traditionally strong ground game.
At 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, the first draft pick in Ravens history dwarfs Freeney, who's 6-1 and 268, and he's proven as adept at keeping the defenders like Freeney out of the backfield and off his quarterback as he has creating holes for Jamal Lewis.
One factor this week could be Ogden's health.
A hyperextended big toe on his left foot has kept him out of the last two games and off the field for nearly a month. Baltimore coach Brian Billick expects Ogden to play Saturday, knowing he needs him to be his usually dominant self for the Ravens (13-3) to reach their first conference title game since 2000.
"I'm not going to lie to you, I'm just happy the game is here," Ogden said. "I mean, I don't think any offensive tackle would want to go to Indy and play him or [Robert] Mathis there on their turf with that noise. But at home, I think it is to my advantage."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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