In the meeting rooms that the Ravens defense has huddled this week, a certain amount of attention has been paid to Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson and wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.
But that doesn’t mean that they have forgotten rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
“You watch as much film as you can, but playing him, you’re obviously going to learn the most about a player,” outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He’s mature beyond his years. He doesn’t seem to get rattled, he’s definitely not fearful, and he’s coming in firing. He manages the game extremely well for a rookie. So we’ve got a lot of respect for the guy.”
A second-round pick in April, Dalton is enjoying one of the finest seasons registered by a rookie. He will finish the season as the only first-year passer in NFL history to throw for at least 20 touchdowns while starting in at least eight wins.
Dalton is also one of just five rookies to gain more than 3,000 yards in a season. With 3,166 yards, Dalton joins the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning (3,739 in 1998), the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (3,722 in 2011), the St. Louis Rams’ Sam Bradford (3,512 in 2010) and the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan (3,440 in 2008).
The Ravens are quite familiar with Dalton’s accomplishments. In their 31-24 win against Cincinnati on Nov. 20, Dalton tossed a career-best 373 yards and put the team in a first down-and-goal situation to send the game into overtime.
Only an intentional grounding penalty on Dalton and a sack by rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee on fourth down preserved the victory for the Ravens. But Dalton still earned a measure of respect from the defense.
“As a youngster, that says a lot about his composure,” Pollard said. “He’s going to stick with it and play this whole thing out, and it’s not over until that clock says, ‘0:00.’ Us as a defense, we have to continue to play ball. We have to understand that for 60 minutes, we have to keep them down. We have to take away their running game – knowing that if we take away their running game, they’re going to throw the ball against us. So we’ve got to be sound in the secondary and what we’re doing with our technique and everything else. And I think we can’t slip up like we did in the last game.”