The Denver Broncos are riding high on their current eight game win streak in which they have hit only a couple of speed bumps that they were able to navigate over. Many will say that it is the quality of teams they are playing and that the Broncos haven’t beat anyone of any relevance getting to 10-3 and winning the AFC West.
Their schedule, however, has been as tough as any in the league through the course of the 2012 season, and Sunday’s game will be another test of just how far they have come when they face the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens may be a injury-riddled club that is playing with a new offensive coordinator in Jim Caldwell, but they are still one of the better home teams in the NFL, and are trying to snap a two game losing streak.
The Ravens may look stat-wise as just another middle of the road team on both sides of the ball, but any team that plays them knows better. Joe Flacco has been superb at home this year posting a 100.7 passer rating while tossing 11TDs against only 4INTs. This varies tremendously from his 75.3 rating, 7TDs and 5INTs on the road. Caldwell should be a nice change of pace for Flacco, but he also needs to get Ray Rice included into the offense more as a viable threat, not only running, but catching out of the backfield.
On defense, LB Ray Lewis will most likely play, but he better make sure that he is 100%, because he will need to be activated off the injured reserve- designated to return list, and if he gets hurt again, they may very well lose him for the year. The Ravens will need all the help they can get to handle Peyton Manning and the Broncos spread offense that utilizes both TEs and WRs in all aspects. But the true test will be if the Ravens can stop Knowshon Moreno, and not allow him to set another career game at their expense.
The key match-up will be the Broncos ability to attack at the line of scrimmage and manhandle a Ravens offensive line that will struggle against the league’s best rushing attack that includes Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Wesley Woodyard and Derek Wolfe. Flacco will not be able to set a groove and with Anquan Boldin negated because of Champ Bailey, the pass attack will need some big plays from Torrey Smith and Rice.
The saving grace for Baltimore will be that the Broncos are not necessarily the most solid club against the run, and that is where Caldwell should concentrate. The Ravens will not be able to win a shootout with Manning, as they do not have the personnel to match up with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, and Joel Dreessen. But if they can control the line of scrimmage and keep Manning on the sideline, then they will give themselves a chance, especially if the Broncos get off to their ceremonial slow start.
What Manning needs to do, is take all tapes of the Broncos second half performances, and figure out how to duplicate that in the first half. They can not afford to allow this Ravens team to taste blood, because there are few teams in the league who know how to close out important games like Baltimore.
I see this as a closer game than some would expect as the Broncos will have a tough time with the athleticism that any Ravens defense offers. They will mirror that performance with one of their own, as Miller and company harass Flacco all afternoon while shutting down their WRs. Rice and Moreno will both be able to run the ball, but in the end, the game planning and perseverance of Manning will succeed. Broncos win going away, 28-20, and maybe then the detractors will go away.
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