Little went right in the Ravens’ 34-17 loss to Denver last month, but their wide receivers experienced dramatic struggles against the Broncos as starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith combined for one reception and 14 yards in the embarrassing defeat.
Smith left the game early in the third quarter with a concussion, but Boldin was held without a catch as Denver cornerback Chris Harris shut him out on six targets by quarterback Joe Flacco. Jacoby Jones made the only other notable catch from a wide receiver in the first half of play when he reined in a 43-yard reception on the drive that culminated with Flacco throwing an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Harris.
“Not only did they thwart us in that particular game, but they’ve done so the entire season to every team they’ve faced for the most part,” said offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, reminding everyone how the Broncos ranked third in pass defense in the regular season. “They are a real challenge. Obviously, we have to work on some things to really get us in position to execute, and we have to able to spread the ball around a little bit.”
A key to giving receivers time to shake free from defensive backs will be the offensive line, a unit that failed miserably in run blocking and pass protection against Denver in Week 15. The Ravens rushed 19 times for 56 yards, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry, and Flacco was sacked three times and hit nine times by the Broncos’ front seven.
However, the reshuffled line that excelled against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday gives the Baltimore quarterback optimism for a better showing on Saturday. The Ravens were without Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda in Week 15.
“I thought the line did a great job last week with Bryant [McKinnie] and [Kelechi Osemele] on the left and moving Mike [Oher] to the right,” Flacco said. “I thought they did a really good job. They played really well together, and I felt comfortable back there.”
The Ravens will hope Flacco can feel comfortable throughout the day and wide receivers will have enough time to gain separation with top pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who’ve combined for 29 1/2 sacks this season, bearing down on him.
Perfect game for return coverage
With the high altitude of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Ravens hope to pitch a shutout in terms of return yards for the second straight week.
Indianapolis failed to record any punt or kickoff return yards as rookie Justin Tucker delivered five touchbacks on kickoffs and punter Sam Koch also prevented the Colts from attempting a return on four punts.
“It’s kind of hard to improve upon zero [return yards allowed],” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “We’d take that. Justin Tucker did a great job of kicking off. I think it really showed his maturity as he’s gone through the season, that he’s gained skills, because it’s a lot different getting touchbacks in August than it is in January.”
Pees not buying the height
“Altitude” has become the buzzword at the team’s Owings Mills facility this week as it seems every other question asked by media members has centered around the challenge of playing in the thin air of Denver.
Though certainly a factor with which the Ravens are concerned, the constant questioning is enough to make you believe the game is going to be played in outer space. Pees offered an unconcerned take on the altitude in citing a college professor from a kinesiology class he took many years ago.
“He told me that when these guys sit on the sideline and put those oxygen masks on, that is absolutely placebo,” Pees said. “That means nothing. There is nothing. Your body takes in so much oxygen. That’s it. Unless you’re really at altitude of climbing a mountain and you are way up there, it really is more in your head than anything else. That’s what I’ve believed the last 40 years.”