Posted Sat Oct 31st by Monty
Each week, we throw records, hype, momentum, and stats (somewhat) out the window and break down the upcoming opponent the old fashioned way: studying film. Join us as we scout this week’s foe, the Baltimore Ravens.
The Denver Broncos can beat the Baltimore Ravens.
Both the Broncos and the Ravens were on the fast track to the playoffs after a 3-0 start. But Baltimore dropped three straight (by a total of 11 points) while Denver rolled to a 6-0 record, and the dynamics of this Week 8 matchup have changed dramatically. With division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh distancing themselves each week, the Ravens find themselves facing an early must-win game with their backs against the wall.
The Broncos have been in this position before. Just two weeks ago they faced an equally desperate San Diego Chargers team in a game with playoff implications, and they handled their division rival with a double-digit win.
Let’s escape the cliches about “who wants it more” and presume both teams will bring their ‘A’ Game. Let’s break down the X’s and O’s.
The Ravens are a perfect example of how paper thin the difference between a good and a bad defense can be. A blown coverage here, a missed tackle there, and this perennial powerhouse is a shell of its former self in 2009.
The missed tackles, in particular, have been alarming, and nothing points to the team’s overall struggles of late more than these blown opportunities. RB Cedric Benson, RB Adrian Peterson, and WR Sydney Rice were all able to make big plays against the Ravens defense in the games I watched because one or more Ravens missed tackles.
These didn’t happen often. 95% of the time, the Ravens are solid, disciplined, and mistake-free. But their system seems to collapse when one runner or passer gets through a tackle.
The Broncos will try to match up in one-on-one coverage as often as possible to exploit this, with Correll Buckhalter, Jabar Gaffney, Tony Scheffler, and particularly Brandon Marshall having shown to be dangerous in single coverage all season.
For example, if Domonique Foxworth is left on an island with Marshall, the Broncos will take advantage. Safety Ed Reed, a sideline-to-sideline warrior out in the field who is a master at reading the quarterback’s eyes, is the X-factor here, but if QB Kyle Orton can effectively dictate where Reed has to line up, it will spell trouble for the Ravens secondary.
That’s a lot easier said than done. Reed is one of the NFL’s best because he has to be accounted for every single play, as Carson Palmer found out in an otherwise decent showing in Week 5. Reed jumped a route with alarming quickness and took his interception to the house. They will certainly try to bait Orton into that same sense of security.
It’s also safe to presume that the Ravens will have addressed some of these issues during the bye week, and if you listen to linebacker Ray Lewis, they have: “Every game, we’re 30 seconds away from winning,” Lewis said. “So you can build up frustration, or you can understand that maybe we didn’t get these breaks early. So coming back, having the bye when we had it, I think it really corrected a lot of little stuff.”
If 11 points (not to mention a missed field goal) are all that separate Baltimore from the league’s best, and the coaches and players had two weeks to reassess and make a few fundamental changes, the Broncos should be heading into a defensive firestorm this week.
Other points of interest
- Pass rush: Baltimore defenses of old had a bit more success getting after the passer, but the Ravens got aggressive against the Vikings and had success with it. And while the defensive line isn’t consistently getting after the quarterback, the Ravens really showed a more aggressive blitz scheme in Week 6. It worked. They got two clutch stops when they needed it most (when Brett Favre had the ball in his hands late in the game to win) entirely because of those blitzes. The Broncos pass protection needs to be prepared, and something tells me the Ravens are really going to bring the house.
- Ray Lewis is still clutch. His 4th down stop in Week 2 against the Chargers was huge, and rightly dubbed “Classic Ray.” He also showed how dangerous he was in blitzing situations, simply destroying Favre on one play.
- You may have noticed the use of the word “clutch” a bit there. That’s exactly how I would describe this defense overall — clutch. Against the Bengals, they got the stops they needed to end Cincy’s game-winning drive if it wasn’t for questionable penalties. Against the Vikings they forced Favre to a 3-and-out when they were down with two minutes to play. This defense gets stronger when the pressure’s on.
The Ravens practiced with Jared Gaither in the lineup Friday, so if he’s healthy, that means he’ll start at left tackle. I didn’t have the opportunity to get a close look at Gaither, since he hasn’t played since Week 4, but Michael Oher did a decent job on the left side during the footage I watched. He’ll be lining up at right tackle and is probably a bit better at pass protecting than run blocking.
Which brings me to the Ravens’ offensive focus: RB Ray Rice. Rice is the only player in the NFL to lead his team in both receiving and rushing, and it’s easy to see why. When the Ravens get him the ball in the outside, he has a combination of physicality and speed that is extremely dangerous. Sound tackling will be absolutely crucial, and as the Broncos have been coached, if you can’t get them down yourself, at least hold on until help comes. Rice is dangerous.
Flacco is also turning into one of the NFL’s best QB’s before our eyes. His ability to stand in the pocket when the pressure is on is the type you’re used to seeing from a six-year vet, not a sophomore signal caller. The issues is that the Ravens don’t have a ton of weapons. Derrick Mason has been good for the Ravens, but he almost retired in the offseason, and against the Bengals Cincinnati completely shut him down.
It makes one wonder how dangerous this team would be if they had made a trade for Brandon Marshall.
Other points of interest
- The Broncos’ pass rush disrupted Philip Rivers like he had never been disrupted in his career, so while Flacco is showing the ability to deliver under pressure, I think Denver’s blitz packages will confuse him into holding the ball just long enough for them to get there. Flacco’s best friend will be quick slants and screens over the middle.
- C Matt Birk by name is one of the league’s best, but I saw that pocket collapse in the middle more than once. The Broncos should experiment with some inside pressure packages and take away Flacco’s ability to step into his throw. In other words, send Darrell Reid, who has excelled in this scheme.
- Todd Heap is still a dangerous tight end, so don’t be surprised to see more Josh Barrett in coverage. Barrett did a fine job against the Bolts’ Antonio Gates in the second half last week.
The win against San Diego really sold me on how good these Broncos are. I think, if I had to break this game down into one vital element, that one key will be protecting Orton. The Broncos need to give their quarterback enough time to distinguish and manipulate Ed Reed’s coverage so he can deliver a football against one-on-one coverage, which the Broncos’ playmakers should beat.
If the Ravens are able to get after Kyle Orton and force him into mistakes, the Broncos will lose this game, period.
Perhaps I’m underestimating the Ravens’ ability to adjust their gameplan and rush the passer, but frankly, I think the Broncos willl have field day. I think Moreno and Buckhalter will break loose after a few missed tackles, too.
Broncos win big, 30-15.