- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Making just his third NFL start, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer can expect a heavy dose of purple fury today.

Palmer is really still a rookie after sitting on the Bengals’ bench all last season, and the Baltimore Ravens’ ball-hawking defense loves nothing more than seeing an inexperienced quarterback across the line.

With a share of first place in the AFC North at stake, the Ravens (1-1) take on Palmer’s Bengals (1-1) at Paul Brown Stadium. After watching Palmer struggle against an injury-depleted Miami Dolphins defense last Sunday, the Ravens are eager to get a clean shot at the top pick overall in last year’s NFL Draft.

“It is tough playing against a defense [like ours] from behind,” said Ravens nickel back Deion Sanders, whose availability will be a game-time decision because of a strained left hamstring. “He needs to not try to accomplish too much.”

Palmer led a 59-yard fourth-quarter drive against the Dolphins that ended in Shayne Graham’s game-winning 39-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. On the march, he completed seven of eight passes for 53 yards. But he knows the veteran-laden Ravens defense led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis will present his toughest test as a pro.

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan undoubtedly will blitz Palmer every chance he gets. After two games this season, the Ravens have six sacks, with the secondary recording four of those.

“That’s the conventional thinking,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said of applying pressure to a young quarterback. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, a young guy — let’s blitz him.’ You might be a little more cautious with a veteran, but we’re not going to be imprudent about it.”

If Palmer’s offensive line gives him adequate protection, the Bengals’ 6-foot-5 quarterback has the physical tools and speed on the outside to make plays downfield. Cincinnati receivers Peter Warrick (11 receptions for 127 yards), Chad Johnson (eight for 144 yards and one TD) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (four for 51 yards) are as good as any set of receivers in the division.

Meanwhile, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis might have a special game plan for the Ravens’ offense and second-year quarterback Kyle Boller. The Bengals’ defense is athletic, featuring five first-round draft picks and four second-rounders.

The Bengals’ linebacking corps of Kevin Hardy, Nate Webster and Brian Simmons, who returned a pick 50 yards for a touchdown last Sunday, are all seasoned veterans. Up front, defensive end Justin Smith is on the verge of stardom.

“They aren’t a 3-4 team, but they will bring similar blitzes like Pittsburgh [last week],” Boller said. “They have a different look. They will bring the house, and we need to be prepared.”

The Ravens will try to establish their running game behind workhorse Jamal Lewis, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in all six of his games against the Bengals. On Dec.7, Lewis put up 180 yards and three TDs against Cincinnati.

“I haven’t watched too much film on them, but they play solid defense,” Lewis said. “You have to respect Marvin Lewis. We know some of his schemes — he tries to disguise his defense. As long as we can keep that in check and pick up the blitzes, we should be fine.”

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