The incredulous look on Terrell Suggs' face pretty much said it all when he was asked whether facing a rookie in Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz could be an advantage for the Ravens.
"Our objective doesn't change, and being a rookie quarterback doesn't really mean anything in this league anymore because where the game is going. They all catch on so fast, and they put in work," the outside linebacker said. "The good ones put in work, and he's showing to be a good one. So the fact that he's a rookie, that doesn't mean anything. I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean anything to him, and it doesn't mean anything to us. So we've got to go out there and win the game, and they're going to come here and try to win the game."
Suggs' protests aside, the Ravens defense has dominated rookie quarterbacks, especially at M&T Bank Stadium.
Since John Harbaugh became coach in 2008, the team is 7-0 at home against rookie quarterbacks, who have thrown nine interceptions and just three touchdown passes. The defense has 24 sacks and 53 quarterbacks hits in those games.
Generating a consistent pass rush is clearly an objective every game, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees said that priority becomes heightened against first-year passers.
"There isn't any doubt we've got to be able to get a pass rush, whether we do it by pressuring or whether we do it by four-man rush or however we do it," he said. "That's true of every quarterback, but especially a rookie quarterback. You've got to have a good rush, and we've got to do a great job. We've got to make him execute, and then we've got to execute."
Perhaps the fortunate thing for the Ravens is that the Eagles have struggled to protect their franchise quarterback. Wentz has been sacked 30 times, tied for the eighth-highest total in the league. He has also been hit 81 times, which is ninth most.
Philadelphia has had to rotate personnel along the offensive line. Starting right tackle Lane Johnson will serve the final game of a 10-game suspension for a second violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Halapoulivaati Vaitai started six games in Johnson's place, but will sit out his fourth straight because of a knee injury.
Allen Barbre, who replaced Vaitai at right tackle, has not practiced this week because of a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday. Right guard Brandon Brooks is expected to return after missing two of the past three starts because of an illness related to anxiety disorder.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford recommended that the Eagles bench Wentz to preserve their quarterback. While coach Doug Pederson buried that idea ("That's not even a consideration," he said Wednesday during a conference call with Baltimore media), he did acknowledge that Wentz has much to improve on when it comes to avoiding sacks.
"I think some of it can be maybe he holds on to the ball a little too long, eyes are in the wrong place, the blitz, just a little bit of pressure," Pederson said. "Earlier in the season, there were some sacks that he took, they were scrambles and in the National Football League, when you don't get positive yards, they go down as a sack. So there have been some of those that we've worked through. So it's just a matter of understanding the game. It's OK to throw the ball away. It's OK to punt. It's OK to trade field position and all that. And those are things that young quarterbacks learn in their first year."
Then again, the Ravens are coming off Monday night's 30-23 loss at the New England Patriots in which they sacked Tom Brady only once and hit him seven times. But as Pees pointed out, Brady is unlike any other quarterback.
"Tom's a different thing," Pees said. "It's a different offense. It's just a different scheme. It's always hard to compare one to the other. We hit Tom a few times. We didn't always sack him, but we did hit him a few times. We had decent pressure at times — not as much as we would have liked."
The defense is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with 15, and the ability to intercept passes is linked with the ability to pressure quarterbacks.
"That's very important," safety Lardarius Webb said. "Our 'D' line, the way they've been playing all season, has helped us out on the back end, and the way we play on the back end by covering a long time helps them out in the front get sacks. But it all comes together as a defense, and we're going to have to do all that to get this 'W' on Sunday."
Baltimore Ravens Insider
The Ravens rank 14th in the NFL in sacks with 29 and are tied for 24th in quarterback hurries with 69. But Wentz has a healthy respect for the defense he will face Sunday.
"They're a good pass rush. They do a good job both interior and on the edges," he said. "I think we've got to do some things to get the ball out quick. I think the biggest thing is we've got to establish the run game to slow them down a little bit.
"They're a good football team, a good 'D' line, so we've got to be sharp."
Worried for Wentz
A Philadelphia columnist suggested that the Eagles bench rookie quarterback Carson Wentz on Sunday to prevent further physical wear and tear, and preserve him for the future. That is not going to happen, but the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft has been sacked 30 times and hit 81 times. Here is how Wentz has fared in his past seven starts, during which Philadelphia is 1-6.
|Oct. 30||Dallas||L, 29-23 (OT)||3/8||7|
|Nov. 6||New York||L, 28-23||2/17||6|
|Nov. 13||Atlanta||W, 24-15||2/10||2|
|Nov. 20||Seattle||L, 26-15||2/23||7|
|Nov. 27||Green Bay||L, 27-13||4/43||8|
|Dec. 4||Cincinnati||L, 32-14||1/2||11|
|Dec. 11||Washington||L, 27-22||4/26||11|