Ravens will try to continue streak of perfection against rookie QBs at M&T Bank Stadium

"You always want to respect everyone you go against – rookie, veteran, anybody," said Tony Jefferson when asked about facing the Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. "I’ve gone [up] against some rookies who balled." (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

The Ravens got the better of the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck in the 2012 playoffs, battered Blake Bortles in 2014 and kept the Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz from throwing a touchdown pass last December.

Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have maintained one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. They've been particularly unwelcome and unyielding hosts to rookie quarterbacks.


On Sunday, DeShone Kizer and the Cleveland Browns will attempt to do something that's never been accomplished against the Ravens during Harbaugh's tenure. Rookie starting quarterbacks are a combined 0-10 in the regular season and postseason against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium since 2008.

That recent history, a Ravens' defense that forced five turnovers last week against the Cincinnati Bengals and a capacity crowd excited to ring in the start of another football season in Baltimore is what Kizer and the Browns (0-1) are up against Sunday afternoon.


"They're coming. That's the biggest thing I can say to him," Browns coach Hue Jackson told reporters this week. "This young man is going into uncharted territory for him - going into Baltimore, the stadium where it will be loud, a good defensive football team, on the road, division game. There are a lot of subplots here, but the biggest one for him is preparing and being ready for whatever comes at him.''

Ravens players spent much of the week praising Kizer's size (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) and skill set while finding flaws with their own defensive performance in last week's 20-0 shutout over the Bengals. When players returned to the team facility Tuesday, they watched clips of their defensive breakdowns against the Bengals and not the five turnovers they caused and four sacks they celebrated. The message was that another challenge was right around the corner.

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith went as far as to say that he believes the Ravens are at a disadvantage facing a rookie quarterback because they don't know Kizer well and the former Notre Dame quarterback won't be scarred by any past experiences in Baltimore.

Rookie quarterbacks "go out there and it's not that they don't know a lot, but they're a little more fearless," Smith said. "They're learning on the fly, they take more chances sometimes, especially with young quarterbacks with big arms, like the guy we're facing. He's a very smart guy, mobile in the pocket. They probably have a little more advantage than us."


Smith and other players seemed to care little that facing a rookie quarterback for the first time is a test a Ravens defense has aced many times before. The list of first-year quarterbacks who have faltered in Baltimore include T.J. Yates (2011 playoffs), Andy Dalton (2011), Luck, Brandon Weeden (2012), Geno Smith (2013), Connor Shaw (2014), Bortles, Zach Mettenberger (2014), Wentz and Cody Kessler (2016).

Combined, those 10 quarterbacks threw just three touchdown passes in their first game at M&T Bank Stadium while being intercepted 14 times and sacked 28 times.

"When you have a defense that is as stout as theirs is as consistently and has the scheme that they have, you've got to expect that rookie quarterbacks aren't going to have success," Kizer said this week. "But for me, it's my job now to take that as a challenge, to see how much I can prepare myself to go up and kind of change that trend they've been able to create."

Kizer, a second-round pick in April and the 27th quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999, had a strong debut in Cleveland's 21-18 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He showed his arm strength and accuracy, completing 20-of-30 pass attempts for 222 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He showed his athleticism by running for 17 yards and a score, and extending some plays.

But he also showed his youth in taking seven sacks behind an offensive line filled with accomplished veterans. Several of the sacks were a result of Kizer's indecisiveness with the ball. The Browns also benefited from the young quarterback giving his receivers time to create space.

"Some rookies can read coverage better than others. We don't really know how good [Kizer] is at reading," Ravens middle linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "From what we're seeing so far, he likes to hold the ball a little bit. The more disguise that we can do, the more we can keep him in the pocket."

Ravens safety Eric Weddle said that disguising looks is always important, but it doesn't take precedence over what else the defense does well.

"Just by his experience alone, what we do he hasn't seen," Weddle said. "We don't really need to do more than what we do as a group and as a secondary, especially [Tony Jefferson] and I. We don't need to try to do something that we're not really accustomed to doing. The risk and reward for our position is too great for us to mess up because it can mean touchdowns."

When the Ravens defense is at its best, Dean Pees' group is disguising its coverages, mixing up its looks and bringing pass rushers from areas where the offense isn't expecting them. Those three things are usually a recipe for making things difficult on a rookie quarterback.

Several of the defensive changes the Ravens made this offseason, along with some of their additions, were aimed at allowing them to become less predictable. Getting away from their strengths would be playing into the Browns' hands.

Baltimore Sun staff picks for Browns at Ravens game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Really the truth of it is you really play more to your strengths than you do their strengths," Pees said. "If they have a weakness somewhere, obviously you try to exploit that, but it's never usually at quarterback. The guy's a starting quarterback in the NFL. He ain't a weakness.

"I don't care whether he's a rookie or a 10-year vet or whatever. You can go back and forth. You can say, 'Well, is it easier?' No. It's almost easier sometimes to play against a vet because I kind of know what he's going to do. With a rookie, I don't know enough about him to know what he's going to do or how he's going to react. So it really isn't so much about rookie quarterbacks."

During Harbaugh's tenure, the Ravens are 13-4 against rookie quarterbacks with all the losses coming on the road. Dallas Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott took the Ravens' defense apart last November, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-17 win.

The Ravens, under Harbaugh, have also been beaten on the road by the Buffalo Bills' EJ Manuel in 2013, the combination of Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins in 2012 and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert in 2011.

The tens of thousands of fans entering M&T Bank Stadium for the NFL team’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns will receive free DNA test kits.

But no rookie has found the winning formula during that span at M&T Bank Stadium. That's a nod to the home fans who make it difficult for young quarterbacks to communicate with their offensive teammates.


The Ravens are expecting it to be very loud come Sunday.


"We should have a good sense of their snap count and what they're doing throughout the game," Weddle said. "You can get dialed in on some of their plays. For a young quarterback, he can't be checking or doing multiple things at the line of scrimmage that a savvy veteran quarterback can do who has been in the system for multiple years. It's a learning curve.

"We should have an advantage playing at home in front of our crowd, but he's shown that he can make plays up the field. They like getting the ball vertical up the field. No matter how inexperienced he may be, the quickest way to lose is to give up big plays."

Mike Preston’s three key battles that could help decide who wins the Ravens' home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Perfect 10

Since John Harbaugh took over as coach in 2008, the Ravens have never lost to a rookie quarterback at M&T Bank Stadium.

Carson Wentz, Eagles (Dec. 19, 2016): 22-for-42, 170 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack, 27-26 loss

Cody Kessler, Browns (Nov. 10, 2016): 11-for-18, 91 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack, 28-7 loss

Connor Shaw, Browns (Dec. 28, 2014): 14-for-28, 177 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 20-10 loss

Blake Bortles, Jaguars (Dec. 14, 2014): 21-for-37, 210 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 8 sacks, 20-12 loss

Zach Mettenberger, Titans (Nov. 9, 2014): 16-for-27, 179 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks, 21-7 loss

Geno Smith, Jets (Nov. 24, 2013): 9-for-22, 127 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 3 sacks, 19-3 loss

Andrew Luck*, Colts (Jan. 6, 2013): 28-for-54, 288 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 24-9 loss

Brandon Weeden, Browns (Sept. 27, 2012): 25-for-52, 320 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack, 23-16 loss

T.J. Yates**, Texans (Jan. 15, 2012): 17-for-35, 184 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 20-13 loss

Andy Dalton, Bengals (Nov. 20, 2011), 24-for-45, 373 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 sacks, 31-24 loss

* AFC wild-card playoff game

** AFC divisional-round playoff game

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