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Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb came away from Baltimore’s 31-24 victory over the Bengals in Week 11 impressed and somewhat surprised by the play of quarterback Andy Dalton.
“We knew he was good, but not that good,” Webb said at the time.
When the Ravens face Cincinnati this time around, they won’t be fooled by the rookie signal caller.
“We saw last time how good he was,” Webb said. “We didn’t expect that last time. Now we expect him to be as good as he is and with [wide receiver] A.J. Green back this week it’s going to be a tougher Cincinnati team to play so we have to bring our A-game.”
Dalton threw for 373 yards in the first meeting, the most passing yards Baltimore has allowed all season, and he did it with Pro Bowl receiver Green sidelined because of a knee injury.
Dalton nearly led the Bengals on a 17-point comeback, throwing for 262 yards in the second half and driving the Bengals within striking distance before Pernell McPhee came up with a sack on fourth down with 28 seconds left in the game.
“Andy Dalton was a great quarterback, had great timing,” Webb said. “He played some great ball.”
The second-round pick out of TCU was the fifth quarterback taken in the draft, but he’s one of the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Dalton is tied with Cam Newton with 20 touchdown passes on the season, and has taken the Bengals from a four-win team to the cusp of the playoffs.
“Dalton is carrying that team on his back,” Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said. “Him being able to put that team on his back as a rookie, when everybody talked about them, trashed them, said that it was going to be a rebuilding year, they went out and slapped everybody in the mouth and told them to ‘shut up.’”
Dalton won’t be able to surprise the Ravens this week, but he will likely have his top target in the lineup. Green, who leads all rookies with 63 catches and 1,073 receiving yards, is expected to play Sunday despite being limited in practice with a shoulder injury.
“He’s a type of player where he’s going to go up and get the ball, he don’t care who is going up with him,” Pollard said. “The dude is a playmaker. He’s just very talented.”
Another challenge is that Baltimore’s secondary is fighting through some injuries.
Starting cornerback Cary Williams has been limited in practice because of a concussion suffered against the Browns last week, and Webb has battled through a recent toe injury.
Webb has been a full participant in practice and is not even listed on the injury report, but as of Thursday, Williams had not yet been cleared for contact. If Williams is not able to play, then rookie first rounder Jimmy Smith will likely start in his place.
Smith and Green – each team’s 2011 first-round pick – are no strangers to each other.
“We played against each other in college and we get a chance to go up against each other again,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a joy to go up against him.”
Even with Green back, the Bengals won’t have their wide receiving corps at full strength.
Andre Caldwell, who had three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown last time against the Ravens, was placed on injured reserve this week with a hernia.
That means Green and Jerome Simpson (who may have made the play of the year last week) will be the go-to targets. They are both athletic receivers who can stretch the field, and with Dalton throwing to them, they’re going to be a tough duo to stop.
“As far as the secondary goes,” Smith said, “we definitely have our hands full.”