When the Denver Broncos roll into M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, history will not be on their side. Denver is 0-4 all time in B’More, the last loss being the 30-7 shellacking the Ravens put on them last season. Again the Broncos come into town with an apparent “house of cards” number attached to them. In 2009, it was their 6-0 record, which made them look much better than they actually were. This year, I’m thinking it’s their top-ranked passing attack.
You read that right.
It’s not Drew Brees’ Saints, Peyton Manning’s Colts, or even Matt Schaub’s Texans that own the top aerial attack in the NFL through four weeks…its Kyle Orton’s Broncos.
The same Broncos that are now without their leading receiver from 2009, one of the best in the game, Brandon Marshall. The same Broncos that are now throwing the ball all over the field to guys like Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, and Eddie Royal. That’s the team that leads the NFL in passing yardage.
Again, I’m not terribly impressed.
Though those three have each had a 100-yard game already this season, the secondaries Denver has faced are not exactly the cream of the crop: Jacksonville – 30th against the pass in 2010, Indianapolis – 15th, Seattle – 29th, and Tennessee – 13th. This week, they’ll face a Ravens secondary that, despite being told all offseason that they were going to be the team’s Achilles heel, are the best unit in the NFL at the moment. Even without Dominique Foxworth or Ed Reed, the Ravens currently boast three cornerbacks playing extremely well – Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington, and Chris Carr – another who has a track record of strong performances and should see plenty of the field this week – Josh Wilson – another who had a great preseason and appeared ready to step in and contribute – Cary Williams – and a backup safety who has proven that he can come in and cover one-on-one in a pinch – Haruki Nakamura. The Broncos don’t have a true #1 wideout, as Orton has shown that he can spread the ball around very evenly, but that could play right into the hands of the Ravens, who have 5 or 6 players who can adequately cover, despite not having a big-name “shut down” cornerback.
I could be way off base here (wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last), but it just looks like a good matchup for B’More to me.
Another thing – the reason the Broncos have had to fling it around so much is that they cannot run it. At all. At 55 yards per game, the Broncos own the NFL’s worst rushing attack by more than 10 yards per game (The 31st ranked team, The Bears, average 68.8 ypg.) Their #1 running back, second year player Knowshon Moreno, has missed the team’s last two games with a hamstring injury. Moreno practiced Wednesday, but not Thursday, and will be, at best, considered questionable for Sunday (though if you tell him Ed Reed isn’t playing, that may change to probable.) (Edit – Moreno is OUT) Filling in for Moreno has been former Patriots’ first round pick (and eventual bust) Lawrence Moroney. Moroney, though, has just 29 yards on 23 carries (not a typo) through his two starts.
Moreno, Maroney, whatever. It doesn’t matter – this game proves a great opportunity for the Ravens’ run defense to move up from their slightly misleading 23rd overall rank.
Now that Denver has spent all week looking at film trying to figure out how to block Haloti Ngata (hint: give it up; can’t be done.), there should be plenty of opportunities for guys like Cory Redding (who missed the Pittsburgh game due to a concussion), Kelly Gregg, and Brandon McKinney to make a few plays. Unfortunately, just as one lineman comes back, another goes out. Paul Kruger suffered a sprained MCL in Pittsburgh, and will miss 2-4 weeks. It’s a shame, as Kruger (if you excuse his penalties as a symptom of rust) showed some things last week, pressuring Charlie Batch several times and recording what would have been a sack-fumble were the play not negated for offsetting penalties. As long as those forementioned D-linemen, along with linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson, can find ways to get pressure on Orton, it should be a very long day for the Broncos’ offense.
As for the other side of the ball, we’ve heard this week that Ray Rice is ready to reclaim his starring role in the Ravens’ offense, after a disappointing first four weeks for Mighty Mouse. Denver, though, is not likely to be the team that he breaks out against. After allowing Maurice Jones-Drew 98 yards on the ground in Week 1, the Broncos have buckled down. In Week 2, Justin Forsett of Seattle had just 44 yards, though he did average a hefty 5.5 ypc. In Week 3, Joseph Addai of Indy managed just 29 yards and a 2.2 average. And, most impressively, they held Chris “I’m going to run for 2500 yards this year” Johnson of the Titans to a measly 53 yards on 19 carries last week. While Ravens fans are clamoring for a more balanced offense, and more touches for Rice, Denver just looks much more vulnerable against the pass.
And so, we could very well be in for another week of 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns from Joe Flacco like we saw the last time the Ravens played at home. Last year against Denver, Flacco was 20/25 (80%) for 175 yards and 1 score. While Denver may elect to put their best cornerback, Champ Bailey, on Anquan Boldin all day long, Flacco is showing more and more comfort with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and should have all the confidence in the world in T.J. after last week. Throw Derrick Mason, Flacco’s all-time favorite target and the Ravens’ leading receiver in Pittsburgh a week ago, into the mix, along with Todd Heap and Rice out of the backfield, and the Ravens should have plenty of success moving the ball through the air even if “Q” has another relatively quiet afternoon.
The guys on the NFL Network’s great program, Playbook, were discussing how they feel the Ravens’ offense will “break out” against the Broncos. They pointed to Flacco’s 5-0 lifetime record against the AFC West, and predicted a big day from Anquan Boldin, while also forecasting that the Ravens will shut down the Broncs’ high-flying offense.
Some are making a big deal about the fact that the Ravens are just 1-3 in their last 4 games coming after a win over Pittsburgh. That’s a combination of emotional letdown and physical beatdown after those intense rivalry matches, but let’s remember – fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – this is just the second such occurrence during the Harbaugh/Flacco era, as last week was just their second victory against Pittsburgh. Flacco said this week that, if the Ravens can’t put the emotion of last week behind them and move forward quickly, then they aren’t the team that they think they are.
The Ravens have a history of slapping around the Broncos, a team that our favorite columnist Mike Preston likes to describe as “soft,” when they come to town, and this week should be no different.
This assertion still applies.
Ravens 27 Broncos 13