Ravens vs. Broncos: 5 Keys to a Baltimore Upset
Their reward for that victory isn't much of a reward at all, as the team must now travel to Denver to face a Broncos team that has won 11 games in a row, including a 34-17 victory over the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 15.
That game was all Broncos from the get-go, and if the Ravens are going to turn the tables, get some payback and advance to the AFC Championship game here are a handful of things they must accomplish.
Joe Flacco Has to Play His Best Road Game of the Season
It's been a very up-and-down 2012 season for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
That's unfortunate for both the Ravens and the fifth-year pro.
It's bad for Flacco because this is a contract year, although he'll probably still get his payday if only because decent quarterbacks don't exactly grow on trees in the NFL.
It's bad for Baltimore because most of the "downs" came on the road.
While Flacco had 22 touchdown passes on the season, only seven of those came on the road, while seven of Flacco's 10 interceptions in 2012 occurred away from home.
Add to that the fact that Flacco topped 250 passing yards only once in eight road games this season, and it's easy to see that if the Ravens are going have a shot, Flacco needs to put forth his best road game of the season in the Mile High City.
Get Ray Rice Going Early
Running back Ray Rice is the focal point of the Baltimore offense, and after topping 1,500 total yards for the fourth straight season it's vitally important that the Ravens get Rice going against Denver's third-ranked run defense for a couple of reasons.
First, by establishing (and hopefully having success with) the run game the Ravens can set up play action, which I'll get to in just in a moment.
Second, by running the ball the Ravens can establish control over the flow of the game and time of possession, and Peyton Manning and the Denver offense can't score if they don't have the ball.
With that said, however, it's essential that Rice gets over the butterfingers that plagued him against the Colts. After fumbling only once all year long, the fifth-year pro lost a pair of them against Indianapolis, and you can't give Manning and the Broncos extra chances.
Look for Torrey Smith Deep
This is where that play action could come in handy.
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey has enjoyed an outstanding career and may one day be enshrined in Canton, but there is a hole in Bailey's game, and has been for years.
In his zest to jump routes and go for the interception Bailey can be susceptible to pump-fakes, which allows him to be beaten over the top.
The Ravens need to take advantage of that if Bailey lines up opposite Smith and try to hit him with a home-run ball, and in any event Baltimore will certainly need more than the one catch for 14 yards they got from Smith the first time these two teams met.
Get After Peyton Manning
This one falls under the category of "easier said than done".
There isn't a quarterback in the NFL that's harder to sack than Peyton Manning, as although "fleet of foot" isn't a phrase usually used to describe him, Manning may be the best of all time at identifying blitzes and getting rid of the ball quickly.
That doesn't mean the Ravens shouldn't try, however, and Paul Kruger, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the Baltimore front seven are going to have to bring their "A" games.
The alternative is sitting back in coverage and letting Manning pick you apart.
The Ravens Secondary Will Have to Play Lights-out
Of the many injuries that hit the Baltimore defense this season the biggest may have come when the team lost top cornerback Lardarius Webb.
His absence has shown, with the Ravens ranking a pedestrian 16th in the NFL in pass defense this year.
Meanwhile, the Broncos ranked among the top five passing teams in the National Football League, Manning had the highest passer rating in the AFC, and both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yards.
Make no mistake, Manning will all but certainly get his, but the Baltimore secondary has to do everything in their power to limit the damage, including not letting Thomas get behind them for a long one.
A turnover or two would be nice as well, but those aren't very likely since Manning threw all of three interceptions at home all season long.
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