Last season, the Broncos were absolutely embarrassed by the Ravens. The Broncos started out 6-0, then had a bye week, and came out to face the Ravens and laid a big goose egg. They were over-matched and outplayed. The Broncos went from unbeatable to powder puff in only a few hours.
Coach Josh McDaniels stated this week that the Broncos were unprepared for the Ravens last year (despite the week off). A year older and a year wiser, McDaniels should do more to prepare his team for this year’s match-up with the Ravens. The Ravens are heavily favored this week, but I have reason to believe that, despite the spread, the Broncos will make the necessary adjustments to overcome the Ravens in Baltimore.
Kyle Orton and his gaudy passing numbers, however, is not the reason that the Broncos will win Sunday. It will be big, key plays by the defense. Denver’s secondary is one of the best in the NFL. Even though their stats may suggest otherwise, the Broncos core of cover corners, Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, when healthy, shut down opposing teams passing games. Bailey has been doing it for many years and this season has been no different. He’ll match-up this week on Anquan Boldin. Derrick Mason lines up across from Andre Goodman. Tight end Todd Heap and possession-extending receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh inside, will be the strongest offensive threats against the Broncos this week.
The Broncos defense needs to make some big plays, force turnovers, and rattle Joe Flacco early. Flacco has started to shine in the past few games, but if the defense can contain his weapons and keep him on his toes, it will force Flacco to win the game. The Broncos defense, a year removed from last year’s slaughter, has new personnel. They have developed into a strong, tough, and tight-knit squad, capable of going toe-to-toe with the Ravens.
Defensively, the Broncos have stopped each running back they have faced, with their beefed up defensive front line. Besides Maurice-Jones Drew (98 yards), Justin Forsett (44 yards), Joseph Addai (29 yards), and Chris Johnson (53 yards) were all held to limited yards on the ground and Ray Rice, who has looked very average this year, should fare the same.
The Ravens have only averaged a mediocre 15.2 yards/game, something the Broncos must take advantage on offense. With Knowshon Moreno out again, this week looks to be another futile effort running the ball with Laurence Maroney and Correll Buckhalter. If any kind of running game does get going this week, it will be a huge help to Kyle Orton, who has carried the Broncos offense this season.
Despite missing key contributors, the Ravens defense is still as good as ever. The Ravens defense comes after you. They are always attacking. Frequent blitzing and stunts on the line mark the Ravens scheme. With all of their blitzing, Kyle Orton needs to recognize it right away and get rid of the ball very fast. Another six sack performance for Orton could really hurt. Quite literally, the sacks could hurt if they leave Orton injured. Orton’s short passes is the key to beating the blitz. If the Ravens over pursue and are chasing after the Broncos’ speedy receivers there will be a lot of yards to gain.
One thing that the Broncos have not done well this season, that must change in order to beat the stingy Ravens defense, is taking what you’re given. If you have to settle for a field goal near the goal line because you can’t get in, trust your defense, kick the ball. You are not going to win the "4th and 1" plays against the Ravens. The offensive line is too banged up and inexperienced to win in the trenches. The dismal red zone offense against the Colts was the perfect illustration. I like McDaniels’ aggressive approach on 4th down, however, it isn’t going to work this week. Hold off on some of those ideas until the line has proven it can succeed on the goal line.
If the Broncos play it safe and kick the close field goals, instead of being brazen, they may be able to top the 15 point mark and avenge last year’s debacle. Second chances and field position favors paid to the Ravens, will bury the Broncos. Any points in the red zone are still points. Six out of seven trips to the red zone for the Broncos last week, resulted in points and even if all six red zone trips this upcoming week against the Ravens are field goals, they still win the game, 18-15.