Ravens plan to turn up the heat to chill Palmer

September 25, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THE MIAMI Dolphins sacked Cincinnati's Carson Palmer twice on Sunday, but they hurried him and knocked him down several times. The Dolphins harassed Palmer and his offensive line with an assortment of coverages in the secondary, and blitzes.

Wait until the Bengals see the Ravens tomorrow at Paul Brown Stadium.

"Some of the Bengals said they were surprised by Miami's defensive speed," said Dave Lapham, a longtime Bengals radio analyst. "They said it was like a bump in the road. Baltimore might be the car wreck."

Blitzes and pressure defense are the fancy of the NFL these days, and few teams blitz more than the Ravens, and even fewer disguise it better. And if the Ravens go after veterans like the Cleveland Browns' Jeff Garcia or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Tommy Maddox, they're going to increase the pressure on Palmer, in his second year and making only his third start.

It's the law of the NFL.

"First of all, you've got to give him different looks in the secondary," said New York defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, whose Jets beat the Bengals, 31-24, in the opener. "Then you've got to find the weakness in protection, whether it's a back or an offensive lineman, and go after it with the blitz. And the last thing, the bottom line, you've got to hit him.

"We got a lot of pressure on him in the first half, but we changed up and got away from that in the second. But if I had what the Ravens have in the secondary, I'd have kept pressure on him all game."

Defensively, the Ravens have an abundance of speed and athleticism. Blitzing is a gamble, because an area is left open if the quarterback has time to throw. But for the Ravens, it's a lower risk.

They have two physical cornerbacks in Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter, who can either play man-to-man and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, or play zone. Both are strong and fast enough to blitz.

Twice this season, Baxter has blitzed after lining up against the slot (inside) receiver. Against Cleveland, Baxter tipped a Garcia pass. Against Pittsburgh, he knocked Maddox out of the game with a blindside hit.

The Ravens have a lot of looks on defense. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is versatile enough to play defensive end on some passing situations. The Ravens sometimes move inside linebacker Ray Lewis outside to blitz on third down. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs can line up and rush from any position on the field.

It will be a guessing game for Palmer. The Ravens will sometimes have two safeties on the last line of defense to deny the long pass, or sometimes one safety, which is geared more for stopping the run. The constant moving, shifting and blitzing will come early when a turnover is most likely.

"They want to pressure a young quarterback to make quick decisions, and until he proves that he can handle it, they'll keep coming with it," said New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard. "A key for a quarterback is recognition. The better he understands a defense, it increases his chances of success. They'll want Palmer confused."

Notice Sheppard said confused. You don't rattle a quarterback like Palmer. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003. As far as big games, he has been there, done that at Southern California. He had a year to study the game and learn the Bengals' system as the backup to Jon Kitna.

Kitna had a good season in 2003, but head coach Marvin Lewis knows Palmer can make throws a lot of quarterbacks can't, and Kitna wasn't good enough to take the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has also been impressed with Palmer, who has completed 39 of 65 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns.

Unlike most teams with young quarterbacks, the Bengals haven't watered down their offense. Cincinnati is still using most of the personnel groupings, shifts and motions that it used last season with Kitna.

"[Palmer] is a big, strong guy that does have a year under his belt from an experience standpoint," said Nolan. "He has had at least a year with the system. It's not like he is just a true pocket passer. He can set there and throw, but can get outside.

"I think all the tangible things are there. To me, the thing that is going to make the difference with him, as with our guy [Kyle Boller] or any quarterback, is how strong he is going to be as a leader."

The Bengals will do just about everything to put Palmer in a comfort zone. To handle some of the pressure, they might keep a tight end at the line of scrimmage more often to pass-block. They might have running back Rudi Johnson "chip" or help pass-block Suggs or Lewis on the perimeter before going out on a pass pattern. The Bengals could run more screens or quick passes like slant-ins.

"The first thing Cincinnati has to do is protect him, take all the unnecessary pressure off him," said Sheppard. "Then it becomes an interesting game."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (1-1) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

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