The most intriguing duel of the Ravens' preseason will occur without Chris Redman or Kyle Boller on the field.
Their quarterback competition takes a back seat to the quarterback hunt tonight when the Ravens (0-1) play the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at the Georgia Dome. The main - and manic - showdown will be between the Ravens' Ray Lewis and the Falcons' Michael Vick, the laser-quick linebacker against the league's most elusive quarterback.
If there was any doubt that this preseason game means something to the Ravens, ask Lewis how it will feel to go against Vick. He'll quickly interrupt.
"Vick has to go against me," Lewis said with a smile. "Let's not forget that."
Their playing time may only last until the first few snaps of the second quarter, and Lewis expects their meeting to be as short and sweet as last week's go-around with Buffalo Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Short was forcing three-and-outs on the Bills' first two possessions. Sweet was holding Buffalo's starters to 4 yards on those two series before allowing a 14-yard touchdown drive following an interception.
Unlike facing Bledsoe, chasing down Vick carries a message.
"I said it in 2000 and I'll say it again, I really don't think people realize how fast our defense is," Lewis said. "When we start coming, it's like, huh?
"[The Falcons] are not ready for us."
Last year, it didn't seem like Vick was ready for a Ravens team missing Lewis, who sat out the 20-17 loss to the Falcons in Week 9 with a partially separated shoulder.
The Ravens hounded Vick in one of his worst performances of the season, holding the Pro Bowl quarterback to 136 yards passing and minus-5 yards rushing. They registered as many sacks (three) as positive runs allowed and forced Vick to fumble twice.
Lewis suggested more damage could be done this time with him on the field.
"You look at [Atlanta coach] Dan Reeves and say, 'Are you that out there to prove a point and risk him getting hurt in preseason?'" Lewis said. "It's a free game in between the lines and that's all I'm saying."
Vick is the main reason league observers have tabbed the Falcons as the NFL's up-and-coming team this season.
The third-year veteran got off to a spectacular preseason start against the Green Bay Packers, completing six of seven passes for 110 yards and one touchdown. His first completion of that game went to his new weapon, the recently acquired receiver Peerless Price, who finished with three catches for 31 yards.
But going against the Packers' defense is different than going against a defense that has Lewis staring across the line.
"It's exciting, man, just due to the fact that Ray's such a great player," Vick told Atlanta reporters. "It gets you juiced because you know it's going to be a test. Last year, they were minus Ray Lewis. With him in the lineup, they are a totally different team."
The other intriguing battle will take place throughout the game, but how the quarterback competition will unfold tonight is being kept under wraps again.
Redman and Boller both had up-and-down games last week, and the second preseason game could further define the depth chart.
Redman, who is considered the favorite to start the regular season, worked the first quarter last week and went 5-for-8 for 55 yards, leading one touchdown drive. Boller played the entire second half with the reserves and was 10-for-21 for 124 yards, heading two touchdown drives.
When asked whether he has the same game plan for the quarterbacks as last week, usually verbose coach Brian Billick said, "Nope."
Does that mean Redman will play more than a quarter?
"We'll find out," Billick said.
The most logical scenario is to start Redman again and allow him to play into the first series of the second quarter. Boller could take over there to receive limited playing time with the starters.
If Boller goes in earlier to get more work with the first group, Billick could insert Redman later in the second quarter to get him more exposure. From there, Boller probably will get the nod in the third quarter since the Ravens want him to get the most reps in the preseason. Anthony Wright, who has worked with the scout team most of the week, will likely enter in the fourth quarter.
Redman, who had a solid start before fading in the first quarter last week, is focused on the offense playing a more complete game.
"I think it's time for all of us to put it together on the field," Redman said. "I think we're looking at a good week of practice and now it's time for it to show up in the game. We're trying to form that chemistry."
Meanwhile, Boller is trying to establish some consistency after a debut that included some erratic passes and electric downfield throws. The learning curve could be accelerated if the first-round quarterback gets his first snaps with the starters.
"It would be a great opportunity to perform like they perform," said Boller, who took the majority of the reps in yesterday's walkthrough. "But I want to go out and play as if I was with the first, second or third group. I don't want to be different. I still want to go out there and make plays."
Preseason opponent: Atlanta Falcons
Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line: Falcons by 4 1/2