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What About Rookie QBs vs. Baltimore?

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 16, 2011 – 4:58 pm

The big storyline last week was “Rookie QB vs. Dick LeBeau-coached defense.”

Can you even name the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator?

For the record, it’s Chuck Pagano, but if you didn’t know that, I’m fairly certain that you can identify Baltimore’s best linebacker, safety, and pass rusher.

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

The Ravens defensive strategy might not be quite as difficult for a quarterback to decipher as what LeBeau does in Pittsburgh, but since 2008, Baltimore has given up the fewest points per game (16.3) of any team in the NFL. Pittsburgh ranks second at 16.5, and no other NFL team has allowed fewer than 19.

“Every week is a challenge, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh are in their own category,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “They have very experienced players and have been dominant on defense for a lot of years for a reason.  They have great players and a very good scheme.”

The heart and soul of Baltimore’s defense is 36-year-old Ray Lewis who is the only player in NFL history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career.  The 12-time Pro Bowler is still playing at a high level in his 16th NFL season.

“He’s such a great student of the game,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “He uses his knowledge of the game and what you do to his advantage.  And he’s still very, very sudden.” 

Then there’s safety Ed Reed – the NFL’s active leader in career interceptions (56) and defensive touchdowns (8).

Earlier this year, NFL Network ran a behind-the-scenes special about Patriots coach Bill Belichick that included a segment that showed him and Tom Brady studying tape of Reed (you can watch it here).  Belichick and Brady marveled at Reed’s knack for reading the quarterback and ignoring his own defensive responsibilities in order to make big plays.

“I’ve been a big Ed Reed fan for a lot of years,” said Gruden.  “He’s one of my favorite defensive players ever.  He’s got incredible ball skills and a feel for the game and makes big plays at critical moments.  He’s done that year-in and year-out for a long time, even going back to theUniversity of Miami.  As a quarterback, you have to know where he is at all times.  If you’re going to throw a deep ball, you had better know where he is before you throw it because he makes up so much ground.”   

“He has great instincts,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.  “He plays the eyes really well and has a really good feel for the game.  You definitely have to know where he is.” 

The rookie quarterback also has to keep his eyes on four-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs – the Ravens all-time leader in sacks (74.5) and forced fumbles (24). Dalton was not sacked in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh and has only been sacked 13 times this season – tied for third-fewest in the NFL.

“We try to avoid negative plays,” said Dalton.  “I’m trying to do whatever I can to either get the ball out of my hands or move around a little bit so I’m not getting sacked.”

“Sometimes he sees things a little too quickly and wants to get it out of his hands instead of letting plays develop,” said Gruden.  “(Ben) Roethlisberger takes a lot of sacks, but makes up for it by buying a lot of time and finding open receivers down the field for huge plays.  That’s something we’re lacking right now.  Sometimes, you want him to hang in there just a little bit longer, but he does go through his progressions very fast and makes good decisions most of the time.”

Following the Steelers win over the Bengals last week, rookie quarterbacks fell to 1-13 vs. Pittsburgh since LeBeau became the defensive coordinator in 2004.  In case you’re wondering, rookie QBs are 1-0 vs. Baltimore since Pagano became the defensive coordinator this year.  Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert went 9-for-20 for 93 yards with 0 TD and 0 INT in the Jaguars’ 12-7 win in Week 6.

“The Ravens are blitzing a lot,” said Gruden.  “They pose a problem for you and you had better not get into third-and-long very often or it’s going to be a long day for you.  It’s going to be very important for us to maintain the line of scrimmage, run the ball, and get into third down and ‘makeable’ where we have a chance to run or throw.”

“We’re facing another good defense so it comes down to preparation,” said Dalton.  “We feel like we put in a good game plan – now it’s a matter of going out and executing.” 

* * * * * 

I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and Wayne“Box” Miller for “Bengals Gameplan” on Wednesday night from 6 to 8.  I’ll be on the road with the UC football team on Friday, but I hope you’ll join Miller and Artrell Hawkins for “Bengals Pep Rally” from 3 to 6 at the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash.  Both shows can be heard on ESPN 1530-AM.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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