Monday, January 7, 2013
Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
The obvious way to start is with Manning, who has truly been remarkable after coming back from multiple neck surgeries. He has eclipsed 4,600 yards and has thrown for 37 touchdown passes. This, of course, has come from the help of special receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but also from lesser known guys that Manning has helped turn into key parts of the offense like Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme, and Joel Dreessen. Let's face it; the Broncos' offense is looking eerily similar to the Colts' offense when Manning was in Indianapolis, and that's scary for the Ravens.
Baltimore has been known for its hard-nosed defense, but with injuries to players like Lardarius Webb as well as players like Lewis growing older and becoming less effective, that is a thing of the past. The Ravens rank in the bottom half of the league in both rushing and passing defense, but that doesn't even tell the whole story. The Ravens have been repeatedly gashed by running backs in the second half of the season, but they may have fixed things at the right time. They were able to hold the New York Giants to just 186 yards of total offense in Week 16, and controlled the Colts in the Wild Card round. It's looking like the defense is starting to regain its mojo, and they'll certainly need it against Manning.
It almost seems as if Joe Flacco is finally starting to hit his stride as well, and just at the right time. There's been a lot of debate about Flacco as a quarterback. In Baltimore's first four games of the season, he averaged 317 yards with seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. However, as the season went on, Flacco began to play less and less spectacular and the Ravens endured a three-game losing streak. Flacco rebounded against the Giants and threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against the Colts. This week, he will have a lot more difficulty with Champ Bailey taking away Torrey Smith, but with players like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta stepping up, along with the ever reliable Ray Rice, expect Flacco to see some success in the passing game. Remember, this is the guy who got the Ravens within a missed field goal of the Super Bowl just a year ago.
Speaking of Rice, the most exciting battle of the game will be him against Denver's third ranked rushing defense. Rice has been a monster this year, both running the ball and catching passes (hay-diddle-diddle). He's also seen more looks with Cam Cameron out as offensive coordinator, so it appears that new OC Jim Caldwell is committed to giving him the ball. Rookie running back Bernard Pierce is also appearing to be quite the player, topping the century mark against the Colts last week. The Ravens need to establish the run early and not get away from it, because if they do, it will be a passing duel between Flacco and Manning, and I can't see Flacco winning that one.
One thing that does worry me a bit about the Broncos is the running back position. Knowshon Moreno has provided blocking and experience in the absence of Willis McGahee, but the guy just worries me. He was supposed to be a stud, but has really showed nothing in his NFL career and is basically thriving only because Manning is his quarterback. He's averaged a solid 85 yards per game with three scores since taking over as the lead back, but I would be much more confident if Denver had McGahee running the ball.
These two teams met not too long ago in Denver and the Broncos routed the Ravens. Of course, the Chris Harris pick-six was a game changer, and something that the Ravens cannot afford. They need to keep the game close and not turn the ball over. The gameplan is much easier for Manning and co. They need to play their game and beat up on the Ravens' defense. Neither Manning nor Rice were stellar in the previous meeting, but I expect both to be on top of their games in this one. In the end, The Broncos will win by a slightly closer score than last time. I just don't see Flacco being able to keep up with Manning against a tougher defense.
Broncos 28, Ravens 17