By Jeff Zrebiec
11:39 AM EDT, October 19, 2011
Of the Ravens’ final 11 games, four of them will be played against teams with first-year starting quarterbacks. That includes the two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and their rookie signal-caller Andy Dalton, the game against the Curtis Painter-led Indianapolis Colts and Monday night’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. It does not include the Oct. 30 Arizona Cardinals tilt, though it easily could because Kevin Kolb is essentially an undisputed starter for the first time in his career. Another two will be played against the Cleveland Browns and their struggling second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. And then there are the games against the Seattle Seahawks, who will likely start Tarvaris Jackson, and the San Francisco 49ers, who barring an injury will start Alex Smith. Both Jackson and Smith have been maligned throughout their young careers. All of what I just mentioned is a long way of saying that the Ravens will face two elite quarterbacks – the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the San Diego Chargers Philip Rivers – the rest of the regular season. That, more than anything, is why I think the Ravens will wind up winning more games than most people originally expected. We all know the “Any Given Sunday” cliches, but the Ravens have been feasting on young and unproven quarterbacks for years. The Jets’ Mark Sanchez and the Rams’ Sam Bradford were added to that list already this season. With how aggressive defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been and how well the Ravens have shut down the run, it’s very hard to envision some of these quarterbacks having any extended success against this defense.
With the Ravens sitting at 4-1 after their toughest five-game stretch of the season and two one-win teams next on their schedule, the question I’m getting the most these days is “What concerns you most about this team?” The popular answers are the banged-up secondary, the young and relatively unproven receiving corps behind Anquan Boldin or just all the injuries in general. And of course, some people are always going to say Joe Flacco until he leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl. But my answer – and it isn’t particularly close – is the pass protection. Without a veteran backup quarterback on the roster, the Ravens simply can’t afford Flacco to take the beating that he took last Sunday. And that’s not even mentioning the obvious that Flacco is a completely different quarterback when he doesn’t have a defender in his face every play.
I wasn’t covering this team last year so I can’t speak of this first hand, but people around the team have been marveling about how much nose tackle Terrence Cody has matured from his rookie season. It’s obviously evident in his play, but to watch the 23-year-old in the locker room, during timeouts and after plays is to witness a player whose confidence and comfort level is growing by the day. Last Sunday, he did a fireman’s roll after one of his tackles, and he was bobbing up and down to the music and urging the crowd on during timeouts. It’s amazing what some success and an opportunity can do for a guy.
Kudos to Ravens coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for giving fullback Vonta Leach two carries near the goal line Sunday against the Houston Texans, his former team. They were just Leach’s fourth and fifth carries of his eight-year career and his first in a span of 38 games. Leach didn’t get in the end zone, but that’s the kind of coaching gesture that makes an impression on the players. Everybody knew how much Leach wanted to punish his old team, which he felt didn’t make his re-signing enough of a priority. Leach is the ultimate team guy who never asks for anything but for his teammates to play with the same passion that he does. To give him two shots at a touchdown – his first carry went for five yards - was a really nice touch.
The NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reported last week that Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta is among the executives the Oakland Raiders are considering to fill their GM vacancy. DeCosta doesn’t comment publicly on his career plans and I certainly won’t speak for him. But the sense around the organization is that DeCosta, who has turned down several interview opportunities in the past, is the GM-in-waiting for when Ozzie Newsome retires. DeCosta is also an East Coast guy with a young family, so I’d imagine it would take an unbelievable opportunity for him to leave Baltimore.
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