QB's strength is refusal to be intimidated

The Baltimore Sun

Heading into Monday night's season opener, what should worry the Ravens' defense is Carson Palmer's lack of fear.

The Cincinnati Bengals star is one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL who isn't afraid to attack the league's most aggressive defense.

He is what Mark Brunell was to the Ravens' dominant defenses in 1999 and 2000, a quarterback who regularly put up big numbers against them when others could not.

Palmer's confidence comes from December 2004, when he rallied the Bengals from a 20-3 deficit by throwing for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Including that comeback, he is 4-1 in his past five starts against the Ravens, averaging 272 yards passing and throwing for 10 touchdowns.

Unlike many quarterbacks in the league, Palmer doesn't flinch when facing the Ravens.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger probably would prefer to avoid facing the Ravens, especially when he knows Bart Scott is only a few feet from him.

And none of the quarterbacks in the Ravens' next four games -- Chad Pennington, Matt Leinart, Charlie Frye and Alex Smith -- are going to be comfortable in the pocket when the Ravens are blitzing cornerbacks and safeties from every angle.

Even Peyton Manning isn't himself when he meets the Ravens.

In his past three games against the Ravens, Manning has a quarterback rating of 79.2. Compare that to Palmer's 108.2 rating against the Ravens in five games.

When it comes to this AFC North rivalry, Palmer is the most accurate barometer of how the game will end. In his past four wins over the Ravens, he has thrown for nine touchdowns and had two interceptions. The only loss came when he threw more interceptions (two) than touchdown passes (one).

The key to Palmer's success is his pass protection.

The Ravens have sacked Palmer only nine times in five games, but they might be able to apply more heat in the opener. Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson didn't play in the preseason because of a heel injury, and the team is undecided at left tackle. Cincinnati will play Levi Jones, who vented his frustrations over playing time, or Andrew Whitworth.

If the Ravens are unable to hurry Palmer, they could have the same problems as in previous meetings. Palmer has completed a pass of at least 40 yards in five straight games and has a knack for coming up big in clutch situations.

In November 2005, he hit Chris Henry for a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to extend Cincinnati's lead to 21-9.

In the last meeting, he connected with T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 40-yard touchdown off a flea-flicker in a 13-7 victory.

If the Ravens want to win their opener, they can't lose the battle with Palmer again.


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