Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens: 5 Keys to the Game for Baltimore

Mike FastContributor IDecember 13, 2012

Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens: 5 Keys to the Game for Baltimore

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    If you’ve listened to Baltimore sports radio this week, you’d think the world is going to end a few days early (I don’t buy that it will, but you get the point).

    Peyton Manning and the Broncos are coming to Baltimore to face a decimated Ravens defense? This game is over before it starts.

    Or is it?

    Sure the Broncos have won a league-best eight games in a row, and the Ravens switched offensive coordinators this week; a move that is not minor by any stretch.

    As it is, Manning is tough enough to game plan against, but when your starting middle linebackers could be Brendon Ayanbadejo and Josh Bynes, it makes the task considerably more difficult.

    It remains to be seen if linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Dannell Ellerbe will be active on Sunday. Offensively, tight end Ed Dickson and guard Marshal Yanda are key players that are dealing with injuries of their own.

    Offensively, Denver’s strength is the pass and Baltimore’s strength is the run. Denver is the healthier team, but Baltimore is the more desperate team.

    Whatever happens, it should be a very good game Sunday in Baltimore.

1. Get Denver off the Field on Third Down

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    The Broncos are fifth in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, converting on 44.1 percent of their attempts. The Ravens third-down defense is ranked No. 14 (37.8 percent).

    The Ravens have lost the time of possession battle in 11 of their 13 games this season. That translates to more defensive snaps and more susceptibility to defensive injuries.

    Allowing Manning to stay on the field and exposing your defense to more injuries are two things you cannot afford to do.

2. Sack Manning

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    Not only is Manning incredibly talented, but his offensive line is excellent at allowing him time to read defenses. Denver is tied for third in the NFL in sacks allowed. They’ve given up just 19 sacks in the 13 games they’ve played this year.

    While the Ravens rank tied for 15th in sacks (30), they will have to be even better on Sunday. If they can’t get to Manning, they ought to take a page out of J.J. Watt’s book and tip the ball at the line of scrimmage.

3. Sustain Drives

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    Offensively, the way to beat great quarterbacks is to keep them off the field.

    Running the ball often is a good way to accomplish that. However, the Ravens don’t need to run to maintain possession and dictate pace.

    Early in the season Joe Flacco led a no-huddle offense. While it wasn’t a hurry-up offense, The Ravens allowed themselves the option of using every second of the play clock. This tempo really hinders the defense’s ability to substitute, which in turn neutralizes their pass rush.

4. Pass Protect

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    Von Miller is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (16.0 sacks, third in the NFL) for the fourth-best defense in the league. The Ravens’ offensive line has struggled to pass protect this season. Going back to a no-huddle offense will help them sustain drives, tire out the defense and keep Manning off the field.

    When Flacco has time to throw, he plays Pro Bowl caliber football (especially at home). With Yanda likely out, the Ravens will need to hold their ground against a formidable Denver pass rush (second in the NFL, 39 sacks).

    Fortunately for them, they man that will try to block Miller (Michael Oher) is leading the AFC in Pro Bowl voting among offensive tackles.

5. Play with a Sense of Urgency

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    M&T Bank Stadium is your home turf. Protect it. Play with controlled anger and prove you belong.

    Despite injury and statistical disadvantages, show the NFL world you are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

    A win on Sunday clinches a second straight AFC North title for the Ravens and guarantees them at least one home game in the playoffs.

    Moreover, a win on Sunday along with a Patriots loss Sunday night will put the Ravens in control of the No. 2 seed (and a first-round bye) with two weeks to go.