Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice
The Baltimore Ravens need to ground and pound the Denver Broncos into submission.
With Peyton Manning casting quite a shadow over this matchup, it's hard to envision the Ravens airing the ball out to keep up with the MVP candidate.
Joe Flacco hasn't covered himself in glory during his time in the postseason. He's had some good performances, but his mediocre-to-poor performances are the ones that stand out.
In addition, Flacco hasn't been a prolific QB. He's a solid game manager that lets the running game and defense do their jobs.
Going against a defense as good as Denver's doesn't project well for Flacco's performance.
This is where Ray Rice comes in.
Baltimore's defense simply won't be able to keep up with Manning, who's having one of the best seasons of his career considering the circumstances.
Ray Lewis has returned, and that should continue to be a huge boost to the unit. Lewis played very well in the Wild Card win over the Indianapolis Colts.
In addition, you could see how the Ravens as a whole were inspired by that game being Lewis' last at home in Baltimore.
The emotional aspect won't be enough.
When you match up the two units, the Ravens don't measure up man for man.
Baltimore has long been known for having one of the best defenses in the league. With the injury to Lewis as well as Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have slumped to just 17th in total defense.
Rice must be able to grind up the yards on offense. You could lump Bernard Pierce in with Rice as well. The two combined for 175 yards against the Colts last week.
Having a solid rushing attack will allow the Baltimore defense off the field and more importantly, Manning off the field as well.
With a steady running game, the Ravens can set the tone. They'll also be able to keep the Broncos defense on the field and wear them down. Once Denver starts cheating up, the Ravens can beat them over the top.
A strong game from Rice would take the offensive burden off Flacco, allowing him to do what he does best.
The Ravens have a chance, albeit a small one, to get to the AFC Title Game. If that's to happen, Rice must be churning up the yards.