Ravens Notebook Gameday

Ravens have a history of harassing young quarterbacks

Seven years ago, a confused, frightened young quarterback became unraveled against the Baltimore Ravens' suffocating defense. It was an ugly display.

As a rookie at the time with the New York Giants, future Super Bowl winner Eli Manning had no clue how to react to the Ravens' strategy and personnel.

Manning was eventually given the hook for veteran Kurt Warner, but not before achieving a rare, dubious mark: a zero quarterback rating. He earned it by completing only 4 of 18 passes for 27 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Manning isn't alone in being terrorized by the Ravens' intimidating defense, which has established a franchise tradition of victimizing inexperienced quarterbacks.

Seven years after the Manning debacle, the Ravens are still handing out rough initiations. As the Ravens (4-1) take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert tonight at EverBank Field, they're undefeated in six games under coach John Harbaugh against quarterbacks in their first or second year as a starter.

Disguised coverages, aggressive blitz schemes and the presence of All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, All-Pro free safety Ed Reed, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tends to neutralize even the most precocious quarterbacks. "It's probably a little bit more for a rookie, probably a little bit harder for a rookie," Reed said. "A veteran quarterback has pretty much seen it all to some degree, but it's definitely hard on a rookie."

The last time the Ravens were beaten by a rookie was a 19-14 defeat to Trent Edwards and the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 21, 2007, and coach Brian Billick was fired after that season. That's the aberration, not the rule for a Ravens defense that ranks first in the league in fewest points allowed per game with a 14.2 average this season.

Of the six first or second-year passers to square off with the Ravens, former Oakland Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell, who's no longer in the league, was the only one to pass for over 200 yards. In their first starts against Baltimore, Russell, Dennis Dixon, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford combined for four touchdowns and six interceptions while being sacked 11 times. As a rookie last season for the Cleveland Browns, McCoy uncorked three interceptions against the Ravens. Opposing quarterbacks this season, an established group that includes Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck, Sanchez and Matt Schaub, have a cumulative 65.9 passer rating against Baltimore. The Ravens rank second in the NFL in that category.

With the exception of Hasselbeck outdueling them, the Ravens have thrived against opposing quarterbacks. That includes Roethlisberger, who owns two Super Bowl rings, committing five turnovers being sacked four times in a 34-17 Baltimore rout to open the season. Sanchez looked rattled against the Ravens, completing just 11 of 35 throws for 119 yards with three fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown.

"We're a pretty decent defense," Suggs said. "We do stuff to all the quarterbacks, not just the young guys. We attack."

So, what's in store for Gabbert?

"You don't want any quarterback to do well, but we're built in such a way that it's hard to recognize what we are doing," Harbaugh said. "We bring a lot of pressure. We've got good players, that's the main thing. I also think we have players who understand the system. Guys like Ed Reed, he's a master of disguise. It helps." Drafted 10th overall out of Missouri, Gabbert was hurriedly installing as the starter when the Jaguars dumped veteran David Garrard. Only Rex Grossman and Kerry Collins have lower passer ratings than Gabbert's 71.1. mark. He's quarterbacking the NFL's last-ranked offense (260.3 yards) and passing offense (137.7 yards). Lewis anticipates giving Gabbert a hard time based on the Ravens' deception engineered by defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "It's different, and that's why it takes somebody who's studied us for a long time to kind of dial in on exactly what we do," said Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "The young guys are already set in what they're going to do and set where their reads are going to go and things like that.

"So, it's more basic for them trying to play against us instead of trying to figure all of the moving around out. But, that's one of our packages. Our package is disguising the swarm something differently and then give them something once the ball is snapped." The Ravens are averaging 2.8 turnovers forced per contest, ranking atop the league in that category and are on pace to record 48 sacks. And the Ravens are third in total defense, third against the run and seventh against the pass. "It doesn't get any easier for Blaine," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "It'll be a challenge. We understand that they're very good at some things."

Gabbert has already been sacked 14 times with five fumbles, losing two. "Hopefully we can get to him early and often," Ngata said. "Get him on the ground and rattle him a little bit."

Gabbert has completed only 48.8 percent of his throws for 717 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He's averaging 5.83 yards per attempt.

"We're going to do what we do," Pagano said. "It doesn't really matter who's under center with this group. Yeah, they're well aware of who is under center and who he is, this, that and the other. But we've watched enough tape on him. "He's more than capable, if given time, if given a clean pocket, to make some plays. He's athletic. He's big and strong. He can make throws. So, we've got to be on point. We've got to execute. We've got to take care of business." Gabbert hasn't been prone to many interceptions, but he's a low-percentage passer.

Gabbert had a decent game against the Steelers a week ago, rallying back for a 17-13 loss after falling behind 17-0. Still, the 22-year-old is 14 years younger than Lewis and has played in five career games compared to Lewis' 215.

"Young and inexperienced is part of the game," defensive end Cory Redding said. "He is going to do well. He's going to be a great player down the road, but right now, he's got to deal with us."

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