1. Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and the rest of the Denver defense will combine for at least four sacks on Sunday.
The Denver Broncos are a good football team across the board. Not only do they have Peyton Manning under center on the offensive side of the ball, but they currently have the seventh best pass defense and the sixth best run defense in the NFL. They are second in the league in sacks with 39.0 and 16.0 of them belong to second-year outside linebacker Von Miller. Miller is one of the most creative pass rushers in the league, disguising blitzes and finding new ways to get to the quarterback. His compliment on the other side is Elvis Dumervil. At 5-foot-11, Dumervil can get leverage on virtually anyone and it has led to 8.0 sacks this season. The Ravens are depleted up front and it keeps getting worse each week. Michael Oher has been a huge disappointment because he isn’t a left tackle. Kelechi Osemele has faltered as of late. Jah Reid is not the answer at left guard. Matt Birk is a far cry from what he was in Minnesota and Marshal Yanda is questionable this Sunday. If Bobbie Williams were to play, it wouldn’t make that much difference. There has to be a point where head coach John Harbaugh digs Bryant McKinnie out of the “doghouse” and makes him the starting left tackle. That will not entirely fix the problem, nor will it keep Flacco upright each play he drops back to pass. This is just an awful match-up for the Ravens.
2. Peyton Manning will have a field day on an injury-rattled Ravens defense.
This is largely the same receiving corps that Tim Tebow had to work with last season during his magical run; Peyton Manning just happens to make them that much better. Manning has owned the Ravens in his career. The last team other than the Steelers to defeat the Ravens at home was the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts in 2009. Peyton Manning has defeated the Ravens in his last eight starts against them, including a victory in 2010 in the playoffs. Plain and simple, he is the Ravens nemesis. Manning is once again playing like an MVP candidate and a Comeback Player of the Year — 3,812 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. Manning has led the Broncos to a 10-3 record, albeit they’ve only defeated two teams with winning records — the 8-6 Bengals and 7-6 Steelers. Manning gets the Ravens 24th-ranked defense at the right time as they are suffering from numerous injuries across the board. The statuses of Terrell Suggs, Dannell Ellerbe, Arthur Jones, Jimmy Smith and Pernell McPhee are all uncertain at this point and will likely be game-time decisions. Ray Lewis will not be activated this week. Cary Williams has been playing better as of late, but Chris Johnson and Corey Graham haven’t been measures of consistency. The Lardarius Webb injury will really be felt in this contest. Also, Jameel McClain is out with a neck injury.
3. Ray Rice will have an increased workload as Jim Caldwell resorts to the best player on his offense to make his life easier.
Jim Caldwell has never called a play in his NFL coaching career. What should he do? Resort to his team’s bread and butter. The philosophy on offense has been virtually unclear for the Ravens this season. The Ravens have deviated from their previous approach in the past — stay with the running game and wear teams down. Bernard Pierce has been a nice spell for Ray Rice this season as well, but his production should not be an excuse as to why Rice isn’t receiving his normal touches. The offense runs through him. His success determines the team’s success, even more than Flacco’s. Rice is just under the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but it isn’t looking likely that he will break the 2,000 total yard plateau. Simply put, for a guy averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry, he isn’t being used enough and even in the short passing game. The offense may appear vanilla, but the newly appointed offensive coordinator can and should rely on Rice this game.
4. Dennis Pitta will be the X-factor on offense.
The best way to attack this Denver defense will be with quick out routes and between the seams. Dennis Pitta has done well for the Ravens in that department and is continuing to build on his strong 2012 campaign. Wesley Woodyard is listed as questionable for this game and his potential absence could be vital in Pitta having even more success. Rahim Moore and Mike Adams are solid, physical safeties, but they aren’t the toughest match-up Pitta has faced this season. The one thing that has been remarkable about Pitta’s success this season is he has virtually been alone as Ed Dickson has battled injuries and Billy Bajema is Billy Bajema. It will be interesting to see if the Broncos keep Von Miller or use their defensive line to chip Pitta at the line of scrimmage. Pitta is generally one of Flacco’s favorite targets, especially as an early read in route combinations. Look for Jim Caldwell to try and feature Pitta in the dink-and-dunk passing game as the Ravens will use more short passes to get down the field.
To attempt to keep Manning off the field.
5. Denver is a quality team that has beaten a bunch of bad ones. The Ravens have barely beaten bad ones. Ravens lose their second consecutive home game — and third in a row — 31-17.
The Ravens are catching a hot Denver team at quite possibly the worst time. Baltimore may have to trot Josh Bynes and Brendon Ayanbadejo out to play inside linebacker. This is the first game with a newly appointed offensive coordinator that has never called a play in the NFL. Not to mention the Ravens offensive line has to take on the second-best pass rush in the league. Oh yeah, Peyton Manning plays for the Broncos. Originally, this felt like a game the Ravens could win just because they shouldn’t win. However, this game will be over by the start of the fourth.
Broncos – 31
Ravens – 17
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