The Denver Broncos will attempt to win their ninth straight game when they take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, and yet there seem to be a fair amount of doubters for a team that has won their last eight by an average of twelve points. If the Broncos beat the 9-4 Ravens; those same people will probably say it’s not the same Ravens team, so the win doesn’t mean much. If the Broncos lose; it will be an early Christmas for all of the doubters. The fact is this; the Ravens are still an above average team and if the Broncos go in there a win, it will have to be considered a quality win.
It is true, however, that the Ravens are not the same team on defense that they have been over the past 12 seasons. Some of it is injuries, specifically Ray Lewis who is scheduled to return this week, but the Ravens were struggling on defense before the injuries. The Washington Redskins ran the ball at will on the Ravens last week and scored 31 points in an overtime win. The Broncos are not the running team that the Redskins are but they will be able to move the ball. Look for Peyton Manning to keep the Broncos in the no-huddle offense for much of the game. The Ravens still have the talent on defense, especially with the return of Lewis and fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs and the Broncos will want to dictate the pace of the game. The no-huddle does that and it has the potential to wear down Lewis who hasn’t played in two months.
If you have watched the Broncos this season, then you know what is coming offensively. Manning will control the game with the short passing game and they will run just enough. Knowshon Moreno is coming off his best game as a pro and will look to continue his surprising play, but it will be the passing game that moves the ball.
The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator this week and while no one knows all of the reasons; it is safe to assume that a big one was because that he did not use running back Ray Rice enough. The Broncos can expect a heavy dose of Rice on Sunday and play action off of that. If they can shut down the running game, then the Broncos are in great shape. Quarterback, Joe Flacco has not taken that next step and has been average at best over the past month. Flacco will pick defenses apart if everything is perfect but if he feels any pressure, then he starts to make mistakes. The offensive line for the Ravens is not great and they will struggle to block Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. In short, the Broncos must shut down the running game and force Flacco to beat them.
The one thing that the Ravens have going for them is an emotional lift that they will get from Lewis. Even if he is not 100%, Lewis will have that team playing at a fever pitch and the crowd will follow that lead. It is vital that the Broncos withstand that early emotion and turn it into a football game. The best shot the Ravens have is to ride that emotion to an early lead and then play keep away with their running game. If that emotion dies down and the score is still 0-0, or if the Broncos have a lead then the Ravens are in real trouble.
The overall game plan is the same as it has been during the winning streak; get the lead and turn the pass rush loose. It’s something we say every week but when a team has won eight straight, why change? The Ravens are at home, looking to stop a two game losing streak, riding some emotion and trying to clinch their division. That’s all great but the Broncos simply have more talent and are the better football team. It will be tight but in the end talent wins; Broncos on a late field goal.
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