Ravens vs. Broncos: Unsung Players Who Will Decide the Outcome
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Some of the greatest, most reliable players in NFL history will take the field for this matchup, and we pretty much know what we're going to get out of them.
Peyton Manning can pick apart a defense as well as anyone to ever play the quarterback position. After a few weeks adjusting to his new team, Manning has the Broncos offense humming like his old Indianapolis Colts attacks. With his precision passing and a plethora of audibles, he'll look like the Manning we've watched for years out there.
Ditto for Ray Lewis, who looked like his old self when he returned from a torn triceps. From his signature squirrel dance to his 13-tackle performance, Lewis was an intimidating presence at the heart of a Ravens' defense that didn't allow a single touchdown in a 24-9 win over the Colts.
If the Broncos win, it goes without saying that Manning will be a key player in the effort, as with Lewis in a Ravens victory. What's more intriguing is looking at the less hyped guys who could swing the outcome for their team.
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If Joe Flacco wants to match Manning, he's going to have to hit Torrey Smith with the deep ball.
Anquan Boldin was the breakout receiver against Indianapolis, hauling in five passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. Between the stellar rushing attack and Boldin's aerial production, the Ravens offense displayed an uncommon explosiveness in the win.
Against Denver, however, Champ Bailey is liable to be shadowing Boldin all day. In need of another weapon, Smith is the next guy in line to step up.
With game-breaking speed and great leaping ability, Smith is actually the Ravens' best deep threat, and if he can get behind Chris Harris, it will give Baltimore's offense a much-needed vertical dimension.
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Manning loves looking to his tight end, and Jacob Tamme will come in handy against Baltimore.
Tamme was the safety valve in Denver's passing attack this season—finishing third on the team with 52 catches for 555 yards. Running short routes over the middle, he gave Manning a consistent target when Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas were covered downfield.
That element of Manning's arsenal will be vital against the Ravens, who can be beaten deep under the right circumstances.
If Manning targets Tamme early with a few balls underneath, it will force the safeties to play a step up to better cover the tight end. That will give the wideouts a chance to get behind the secondary.
The Broncos don't have the running game to pull defenders into the box, but they have Tamme to get that job done.
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He's not one of the bigger names on the Ravens defense, but Paul Kruger has been their best pass rusher this season.
With Terrell Suggs sidelined for much of the season, Kruger contributed 9.0 sacks to help fill the void. For this mortal Ravens defense, that mark led the team.
Suggs is not the sack artist he used to be, and Baltimore cannot rely on Haloti Ngata, second on the team with five sacks, as a pass rusher. Ngata is as healthy as he has been all season, but the Ravens simply need that guy to pressure Manning off the edge.
For Baltimore, Kruger's the best they have, and he'll have to produce for the Ravens to win.
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