Broncos-Ravens Preview: Denver Broncos Running for Their Lives
Run, run as fast as you can. Or even a slight jog would do.
Despite the NFL's worst running game, the Denver Broncos currently sit at 2-2 tied for second in the AFC West and are coming off a 26-20 comeback win over the Tennessee Titans.
With the running game lacking, the Broncos do have the best passing offense in the league. Quarterback Kyle Orton is on pace to slaughter Dan Marino's single season passing yardage mark averaging over 325 yards in the air per game.
It would be ludicrous to expect Orton to maintain that pace over the course of a full season, so head coach Josh McDaniels knows he has to get the running game going ASAP before someone finally slows down his air attack.
Unfortunately for him and his team, this week, the Broncos travel east to take on the Baltimore Ravens.
Breaking Down the Ravens
The Ravens enter the matchup with a 2-1 record, good enough for second in the AFC North. They, as usual, boast one of the leagues stingiest defenses and an offense that contains potential for explosiveness, yet still seems to be getting its feet under it.
With the Ravens, it of course starts with linebacker Ray Lewis. He leads a defense that has annually become one of the best in the NFL and one that could carry this team to the Super Bowl. Along with an underrated defensive line, Lewis and his linebackers lead an aggressive attack that often leaves opponents what hit them.
If the Ravens have one weakness on defense, it is their secondary. With the Broncos' explosive passing attack coming to town, they had better be ready to step up, because Orton and company will have them running all over the field all afternoon.
On offense, the team is led by quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco got off to a sluggish start to the season after opening up in New York against the Jets, but he is starting to form chemistry with offseason acquisition Anquan Boldin, and the passing attack seemingly gets stronger every week. Tight end Todd Heap is also another very underrated target of Flacco's.
The rushing attack of the Ravens is something the Broncos must envy. Running back Ray Rice brings power and tremendous burst to a backfield that has become known for its bruising backs. Despite holding the speedy Chris Johnson to under 60 yards last week in Tennessee, the Broncos face a different kind of threat in Rice.
When the Broncos have the ball....
McDaniels knows he has to establish the run to have any kind of consistent success this season. With running back Knowshon Moreno out (again), Laurence Maroney and Correll Buckhalter will carry the rock the majority of the time. With the offensive line continuing to gel after dealing with multiple injuries, look for the Broncos to try and get the run going early against the Ravens.
With them likely not having success against that defense, Orton will likely be called upon once again to carry the team to a win. If Orton can continue to hook up with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd down the field, the Broncos should be fine.
The Ravens know this and will be trying to hit Orton hard and often. They know that by knocking him out of the game, or at least containing him, almost assures them a win given the Broncos inability to run the ball.
When the Ravens have the ball....
Rice will get the call early as the Ravens try to bust through the Broncos' better than expected defensive line. Rice's size can wear a defense down quickly, so look for the Broncos' defensive coordinator Don Martindale to use a lot of sub packages should the Ravens make a concerted effort to run the ball early in the contest.
The Broncos can blitz Flacco and must get to him early. With him still being a young quarterback, the Broncos can get in his head and make him force some throws. Champ Bailey and the Broncos secondary could be in for a good game if the linebackers can get some heat on the quarterback.
The home field advantage can come into play here as well. Denver has always struggled in Baltimore, as their loss there last season was the speak that started their downfall to an 8-8 record in 2009. Those ghosts could still be haunting the Broncos.
Three keys to the game:
1. Can the Broncos rushing attack finally get going?
This is the obvious elephant in the room. In a word, against this Ravens defense, no. That doesn't mean the Broncos should not keep pounding away on it. Getting one or two medium distance runs (between 5-15 yards) can be just enough to force the Ravens to respect the run and in turn giving Orton and the passing game more room to operate.
2. Will Kyle Orton continue his hot start to the season?
It's a solid possibility. Baltimore's secondary, as previously mentioned, is that defense's weakest link and Orton is on pace for a record breaking season. The key for No. 8 is to find Lloyd early and also to get Eddie Royal involved. Spreading the Ravens secondary around the field could open up the middle for short screen passes to the running backs or perhaps even open up some chances for the running game.
3. Can the Ravens stop Brandon Lloyd?
Lloyd has gone a long way this season to making Broncos fans forget Brandon Marshall. Lloyd has shown great hands and ability to get open down the field. While not possessing Marshall's freakish size and athleticism, Lloyd is thriving in McDaniels system, and Orton will keep throwing to him as long as he can keep finding the ball.
Broncos 17, Ravens 13
Going with the upset pick here. Orton is on a tear and has the hotter hand over Flacco. The Broncos will be able to contain Rice enough and force Flacco into some unfortunate decisions. Boldin will have a tough time with the double teams which in turn makes Flacco look to his other much less talented wideouts.
The Broncos rushing attack continues to struggle, but shows some promise as the season goes on.
Kris Burke is the Denver Broncos Fan Voice at NFLTouchdown.com. Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkeNFL
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