Young QBs Struggling Against Ravens Defense

The Ravens tormented Chris Simms and Andrew Walter. Now, they're gearing up for Charlie Frye...

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The head starts spinning with utter confusion. Eyes lock onto receivers in a death stare. And the palms sweat profusely, making it even more difficult than usual to grip the football.

The internal clock is ticking rapidly, and it's moments before another fresh-faced quarterback uncorks an interception or gets nailed in the back for a sack.

That harsh reality has been the norm for the two young quarterbacks that have already faced the Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked defense this season.

First, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms tossed three interceptions in a 27-0 loss that marked his 13th career start. Last week in relief, Andrew Walter threw three interceptions, fumbled two snaps and was sacked six times in a 28-6 loss. Between them, they registered a 24.4 average passer rating against the undefeated Ravens. 

"We try to confuse these guys," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We've got a lot of good veteran players who have been around the block a couple of times, so they are able to take the next step in the defense and add little small details to things that maybe you wouldn't do with a young quarterback.

"You want to make him beat you: ‘Go ahead.' Our base defense may be confusing to him. The bad thing is that sometimes the new guys are too stupid to know they are supposed to be scared."

So far, that adage about beginners' luck hasn't proven to be true.

At least not against Baltimore, which leads the league in fewest points allowed (six), turnover margin (plus-8), fewest first downs (22) and fewest yards allowed (302).

Now, the Ravens (2-0) have their sights set on harassing  second-year quarterback Charlie Frye on Sunday against the winless Cleveland Browns.

Frye has started seven career games, including a 20-16 win in the season finale last year against Baltimore where he completed 22 of 37 passes for 199 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He sounds aware of what's coming.

"I think it's a huge challenge for us offensively," Frye said. "They have a great defense. They're playing at a very high level. They're causing a lot of havoc."

So far this year, the mobile former Akron Zips standout has had his issues. Despite completing 60 percent of his passes for 376 yards, he has four interceptions and only one touchdown for a 56.0 passer rating. He has rushed for 54 yards and scored two touchdowns.

"We know this guy," rush end Terrell Suggs said. "He can run a little bit better, he throws better on the run, so we definitely have to do a good job containing him and getting after him."

Frye's situation was exacerbated during the first drill of the preseason when high-priced center LeCharles Bentley blew out his knee. The Browns are down to former Philadelphia Eagles starter Hank Fraley at center.

Cleveland allowed five sacks and nine hurries in a season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints, improving the pass protection in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last week. They still haven't consistently gotten the football in the hands of two gifted young players: receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow

"It has been tough," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "It has been a roller-coaster ride really."

For both the Browns, and the first two quarterbacks who have played against the Ravens.

The Ravens constantly read Walter's eyes. They created turnovers by exploiting his inability to look off the safety or make it to his second or third progression.

"I look for how long he keeps his head turned one way," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who intercepted Walter once. "Some people are a one-read guy. Most young quarterbacks don't know how to read the whole field or scan defenses. When you see someone staring a receiver down, that's what you can really take advantage of."

In Simms' case, he struggled to generate any confidence. Especially with the Ravens' defensive line batting his passes back at him like volleyball spikes.

Not allowing a young quarterback to build hope in the huddle is critical, according to four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce.

"If he has confidence, he'll kill you," said Pryce, who has played a decade in the NFL. "A young quarterback doesn't have any fear because they don't know any better. Young guys in the NFL don't know what can go wrong.

"That's why you see rookies have success. A young, cocky kid starts to tell himself, ‘This is like high school.' That's when you're in trouble."

Frye earned a measure of respect from the Ravens in January when he engineered three scoring drives, including a third-quarter touchdown pass to lead a comeback victory.

"He's a year into it now, so you expect him to be a lot more comfortable in knowing what he can do, what his coaches want from him," safety Ed Reed said. "He'll be on his P's and Q's."

When asked what he thought it felt like for Frye to play against the Ravens' aggressive, multiple-look defense, Reed replied: "It's got to be exciting and, at the same time, intimidating. I'm not Charlie Frye. I don't know his mentality."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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