After a memorable regular season, the Denver Broncos open the playoffs at home versus the Baltimore Ravens. It’s a rematch of a December 16th game in Baltimore that the Broncos won easily. The Ravens do have some key players back on defense that were missing from the earlier meeting but it’s not going to be enough to make up 17 points; the margin of victory on the 16th of December.
Despite the return of Ray Lewis in last weekend’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens defense was not very good. It’s true that they only gave up nine points and won the game fairly comfortably but that’s a little misleading. The Colts ran 87 plays on offense, gained 25 first-downs and accounted for well over 400 yards of total offense. The Ravens do deserve credit for their red-zone offense but they are not going to hold Peyton Manning, and the Broncos offense to three field goals.
The Broncos are going to exploit Lewis and the middle of the Ravens defense with a lot of throws over the middle. Lewis, as great as he was, is a liability in space and Manning will exploit that. People, namely Ravens fans, do not want to hear this but the Ravens are a better defense without Lewis. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. When Lewis is out of the lineup, the Ravens are giving up 6.6 yards per play. When Lewis plays, they are giving up 7.5 yards per play. The Broncos will run a lot of crossing routes with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in order to keep Lewis in coverage. They will also use tight-ends and running backs in the passing game; forcing Lewis to cover. At some point the Ravens are going to have to bring down a safety to help take away the short-passing game and when they do that; Manning will take his shots over the top. In addition look for the Broncos to stay in the no huddle most of the day; the Ravens are an older defense, on a short week and playing at altitude.
The Broncos ran the ball very well in the last meeting and they will again on Saturday. The Colts, who do not have a good running game, ran for 120 yards versus the Ravens. Knowshon Moreno has been running the ball as well as anyone in the league over the last month of the season, and he will find plenty of holes this weekend. The Broncos also get their best run blocking lineman, Chris Kuper back for this one. For the Ravens to have any shot of pulling the upset; they are going to have to get consistent pressure on Manning but Kuper probably takes that opportunity away as well. The Broncos have given up only 21 sacks this season and 19 of those have occurred when Kuper has been out of the lineup. If the Ravens do not get to Manning, then it’s going to be a long day.
Offensively, the Ravens continue to struggle to move the ball with any kind of consistency. They hit three big plays in their wild card win over the Colts but they also went long periods where the offense did nothing. Quarterback, Joe Flacco is going to have to play the game of his life and what has he shown to make anyone believe that is going to happen? Give Flacco this, he throws the deep ball as well as anyone and can be dangerous from that standpoint. However if he is forced to beat someone from the pocket, then the Ravens are in trouble.
For the Ravens to win this game, they are going to have to control the pace of play with their running game. Ray Rice is a great back but the Broncos completely shut him down last month and are third in the league versus the run, so it’s hard to see Rice getting loose. The Broncos goal on defense will be to take away the running game and force Flacco to throw, and then turn the pass rush loose. The Ravens offense line is not great and will struggle to block Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
The Ravens best shot is that old line, “On any given Sunday.” Sure it’s possible that everything could break right for the Ravens and they walk out of Denver with an upset win, but all rational thought points to the Broncos. Give me the Broncos, 38-20.
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