OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked to identify the most dangerous characteristic of Peyton Manning’s game, Ravens free safety Ed Reed smiled and didn’t have to think long about his answer.
After eight previous games against the current Denver Broncos quarterback who formerly starred in Indianapolis, Reed knew the truth all too well, at least in terms of how it relates to the Ravens’ lack of success against the future Hall of Fame signal caller.
“The most deadly part of Peyton is that he gets the ball every play,” said Reed, chuckling as he spoke about the quarterback he’s never beaten in his 11-year career.
The Ravens haven’t defeated a Manning-led team since 2001 when Rod Woodson and Tony Siragusa were elder statesmen in the Baltimore defense and Ray Lewis was a youthful 26 years old. Since beating Manning’s Colts on Dec. 2, 2001, they’ve lost eight straight to the incomparable quarterback, including two heartbreaking losses in the playoffs.
In his 10 career games against the Ravens, Manning is 8-2, throwing for 2,689 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, they haven’t faced him since a 20-3 playoff loss in January 2010.
Plenty has changed since the last time the Ravens played Manning as the 36-year-old has found a new home in Denver and is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery that sidelined him for the 2011 season, his final year with the Colts. Meanwhile, the Ravens have seen their vaunted defense take a nosedive this season amidst personnel losses and a slew of injuries.
They now face the prospects of trying to contain the league’s fourth-ranked offense to avoid their first three-game losing streak in over three years. The task won’t be easy as odds-makers have listed the Ravens as a home underdog for the first time since Nov. 22, 2009 — when they played the Manning-led Colts in what resulted in a 17-15 defeat.
Needing to win to keep their hopes for the No. 2 seed in the AFC alive, the Ravens will try to do something they last accomplished when only three players on the current roster — Ray Lewis, Bobbie Williams, and Matt Birk — were even in the NFL.
“Those are team wins and different teams, different players playing in those games,” Manning said about his long winning streak against Baltimore. “I really can’t speak much to the past. All I can speak to is this year, and it’s been such a different year for me – different team and what not.”
The transition has appeared seamless as Manning has passed for 3,812 yards and 30 touchdowns compared to only 10 interceptions. His 104.0 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL, and Manning has completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season to lead all passers with at least 220 attempts this season.
It was only a few months ago when many wondered if Manning would ever be the same after undergoing four neck surgeries. And while he’s lost some zip on the more difficult throws a quarterback must make — such as the deep out route — his timing remains superb in working with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (74 catches for 1,197 yards) and Eric Decker (64 receptions for 790 yards).
“He is still as accurate as ever,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He still does a great job of controlling the tempo of the game, of his offense, which controls your defense. It’s his offense.”
The Baltimore secondary has struggled mightily in each of its last two games against Steelers backup Charlie Batch and Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III as the Ravens have been forced to use the likes of Chykie Brown and Chris Johnson behind current starters Cary Williams and Corey Graham in the nickel package.
Second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith could make his return from sports hernia surgery this week, which would be a boost to their depth at corner, but Manning’s surgical precision and ability to make changes on the fly create the need for the Ravens to not only play tighter coverage but to also disguise what they’re doing as much as possible. It’s not an easy task for a unit currently relying on backups all over the field.