Broncos vs. Ravens: 10 Keys to the Game for Denver
M&T Bank Stadium has not been kind to the Broncos in the past.
In fact, the Broncos have never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Ravens are 9-3 overall and 5-0 at home against Denver.
However, the Ravens are struggling as of late. They have now lost two games in a row, and they need a win on Sunday to move ahead of Denver in the AFC playoff race.
The Broncos have been hot. They are on an eight-game winning streak and have not lost since Week 5 in New England.
The winner of this game will have a leg up on the other and will have an excellent opportunity to garner the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a chance to host an AFC divisional playoff game.
So how can the Broncos do something they have never done before?
What are the keys to beating the Ravens on Sunday?
Let's look at 10 keys to a very big game.
10. Broncos Wide Receivers Must Step Up
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The Denver wide receiving corps has had a very big season.
Yet, there are times when you can see Peyton Manning looking and looking but no one is open.
They will face a very solid Ravens defensive backfield Sunday.
Safety Ed Reed is once again having an amazing season, and he is always a threat to make an interception.
Cornerback Cary Williams is another dangerous defender.
Broncos wide receivers need to be on the same page as quarterback Peyton Manning. Mistakes in route running will result in very bad things against this defense.
The wide receivers need to have a very good game Sunday.
9. Limit the Tight End
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Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta may not be having a record-breaking year, but he does have 50 receptions for nearly 500 yards.
Of his 50 catches, 23 of those have netted a Ravens first down.
That is the kind of production the Broncos defense cannot allow on Sunday.
Opposing tight ends have had success at times against the Broncos this season.
Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez had seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in Week 2.
Antonio Gates had six receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns when Denver visited San Diego in Week 6.
Much of this responsibility will fall to safety Mike Adams on Sunday. He and the rest of the defense will have to limit Pitta if they are going to be effective.
8. Protect Peyton Manning
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This Ravens defense has not been the usual quarterback-attacking defense that we are accustomed to, but don't underestimate the squad.
The Ravens have only 30 total sacks on the season, but the Denver offensive line will face a very difficult task on Sunday, especially in Baltimore.
Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger will be coming after Manning on every play.
The Broncos offensive line has got to have one of its best games of the season.
Denver has been very good this year, allowing only 19 sacks.
Baltimore would love to change that this week.
7. Defense Has to Stop Ravens on Third Down
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If the Broncos are going to win on Sunday, their defense must get off the field on third down.
In their three losses this season, they allowed opponents to convert on 23 of 44 third downs.
That is over 50 percent.
The Denver defense will have to be very stingy on third down.
And Baltimore has not been great on third down, converting just 37 percent of its attempts.
If the Broncos can hold the Ravens at or below that figure on Sunday, it would definitely help the cause.
6. Be Efficient in the Red Zone
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When the Broncos do reach the red zone they have to score.
Look no further than the Washington game last week. The Redskins went 3-for-4 in the red zone last week, and they knocked off the Ravens 31-28.
You cannot leave points on the field against this Ravens team. It will come back to haunt you.
The Raiders went 0-for-3 in the red zone in Week 10, and they got blown out 55-20.
The New England Patriots struggled in Week 3, too. They were 3-for-5 in the red zone. They ended up losing a tough game 31-30.
When the Broncos do reach the red zone on Sunday, they have to put points on the board.
5. Stuff Ray Rice
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Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. He already has 993 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this season.
But Rice can also hurt you in the passing game.
He has caught 52 passes for 424 yards. And of those 52 catches, 19 have resulted in first-down conversions.
So whether it be on the ground or through the air, the Broncos defense has to shut Rice down.
Not only does he give his team a lift, score points and convert first downs, but he keeps Peyton Manning and the Denver offense off the field.
That makes him even more dangerous Sunday.
4. Win the Turnover Battle
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This is a huge one. The Broncos must protect the ball this week.
Take a look at Denver's losses this year. They have turned the ball over eight times in their three losses.
And the Ravens will thrive on turnovers if the Broncos are in a giving mood Sunday.
The Ravens are a +12 in turnover ratio this year.
The Broncos are a -2.
Manning cannot afford to force passes into coverage, and ball carriers must protect Sunday because the Ravens will be doing their best to take the football.
3. Run to Keep the Defense Honest
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This Baltimore defense has been soft against the run, currently allowing nearly 130 yards rushing per game.
Denver has to take advantage of that.
It might be Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman or even Lance Ball, but Denver must establish the running game.
It will keep the Ravens defense off balance, and it will pay off when Manning has more time to throw the ball.
When Denver lost to Houston earlier this season Willis McGahee managed just 36 yards on the ground.
And in the loss to the Patriots, McGahee had just 51 yards.
Establish the running game against this defense, and the Denver offense should have success Sunday.
2. Pressure Joe Flacco
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This doesn't have to be measured solely in sacks on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Sacks would be nice, but even if the Broncos can hit and hurry Flacco, they will have success.
Most quarterbacks struggle when under duress, and Flacco is no different.
When the Ravens faced a heavy pass rush against Houston in Week 7, the Texans hit and hurried Flacco.
They sacked him four times.
That resulted in Flacco throwing two interceptions, and the Texans came up with a 43-13 win.
1. Start Fast
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The Broncos can win if they are trailing early but what better way to minimize the home-field advantage than by getting up on Baltimore at the start?
In their three losses, Denver has gotten down early.
In fact, they have been outscored 24-5 in the first quarter in their losses.
Baltimore has now lost two games in a row.
They desperately need this game.
The crowd will be loud, and the players will be very high on emotion.
Denver needs to weather the early emotional storm and then answer. Take the crowd out of the game, and this can be a monumental victory for the Broncos.