Ravens hope to flap Bengals' unflappable rookie QB

There's an AFC North quarterback who in his rookie season has helped turned a previously struggling team into a playoff contender.

This quarterback came from a fairly unheralded collegiate football program, but he started every game since Week 1 of his rookie campaign. He's been assisted by a strong running game and a top-notch defense, but has calmly managed his offense and has minimized turnovers and game-changing mistakes.

Sound familiar?

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's rookie season has, in many ways, mirrored the one put up by Joe Flacco during his rookie year.

Dalton has been incredibly poised and effective early on as a pro, averaging just 207 passing yards per game, but throwing 14 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Largely due to his play, the Bengals have gone from four wins a year ago to a 6-3 record and a shot at a playoff spot.

The TCU product and second-round pick in this year's draft has impressed teammates and opponents alike, and the Ravens realize going into Sunday's matchup with Cincinnati that they'll have trouble rattling Dalton like they would most rookie quarterbacks.

"He's running the offense really well, and the offense is really rookie quarterback-friendly," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "They run the ball. The passing game, they have a lot of quick passes, but you see a lot of rookie quarterbacks in that situation who don't do well. And he's doing great. He's definitely an accurate guy. He's extremely competitive. He knows when to put the ball up and let his guys make a play, and he knows when to take a sack or throw it away. He's playing like a veteran."

Along with the technical aspects of what make Dalton effective - he's got a quick release, is deft at moving around in the pocket and has impressive accuracy - those who have watched the rookie operate say it's his in-game persona which has made the transition from the college game to the NFL a fairly seamless one so far.

Even in the face of pressure, Dalton has done well to avoid turning the ball over, and with the assistance of a strong offensive line, he's only been sacked 13 times this season.

"I think Andy's demeanor is what we expected, and really what we hoped it would be," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "That this wouldn't be too big for him, that he could handle it, that he would be able to proficiently go out and do his job week-in and week-out. And our challenge is to get the other guys to do their job to the best of their ability week-in and week-out, so Andy can just focus on his."

"He's made good decisions," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he's protected the ball really well. That's what winning quarterbacks do, and he's done a good job of that."

So how do the Ravens go about getting to Dalton when few teams this season have been able to disrupt his rhythm? The key, Johnson said, will be to stop Bengals running back Cedric Benson and try to make Cincinnati's offense one-dimensional.

If the Ravens can put Dalton in third-and-long situations and force him to make throws under pressure into tight windows, they feel they have a good chance of success. That method worked for the Steelers last week, as they limited Benson to 57 rushing yards, and held Dalton to 50 percent passing and forced two interceptions.

"It's a lot easier to play quarterback that way when they have the running game that they do," Johnson said. "That's one of the things that we have to do is stop the run to make him make some throws."

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