Playoff Primer: Three Keys To Victory For The Ravens

Keys to a Baltimore Ravens victory over the Denver BroncosImage Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Soon after the Ravens 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the team’s focus shifted to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Traveling to the “Mile High” city will be no easy task for the Ravens who are facing Denver for the 2nd time in five weeks. The Broncos come into play riding high as the AFC’s #1 seed, winning the AFC West crown, winners of eleven straight games and a 10-2 conference record against AFC opponents this season.

The addition of Peyton Manning has given the Broncos a quarterback that hasn’t been seen in that town since John Elway, and he’s dramatically improved an offense that ranked 5th in the NFL this season in passing (283.4 yards) and a running game that’s 16th in the NFL rushing at a solid 114 yards per game clip.

But if you look further past Manning’s influence on the offense, what’s more interesting is that Denver’s defense is just as solid. A defense that hasn’t allowed over 20 points since the beginning of December, they rank third in both opponents passing yards allowed (199.6 yards) and rushing yards allowed (91.1) in the NFL.

And a check on the weather in the Denver metro area for Saturday’s game gives us a preview of the type of football game we could expect. The temperature will be a balmy 19 degrees, a perfect opportunity for the Ravens to showcase their running game for a national audience.

The Ravens are as healthy as they’ve been all season long and they received strong efforts from all three phases of the game against Indianapolis. Here are three keys to a Ravens victory Saturday afternoon in Denver.

Ravens Keys To Victory

Run The Football, And Run It Some More – The Ravens ranked 11th in the NFL this season, averaging about 118 yards per game. Mixing the quickness and power of Ray Rice and rookie running back Bernard Pierce gives the Ravens a formidable duo in being able to grind down a defense, pick up first downs and limit the time Peyton Manning is on the field.

Should the Ravens be effective in running the football against a defense ranked third in allowing yards, that will set up Joe Flacco with room to operate and use play action passes and designed roll-outs we’re now accustomed to seeing in this offense to get the football down field.

In terms of play calling, stretch plays really seem to fit the style of runner Bernard Pierce is. He’s explosive and uses quick decisions to hit the holes fast. He has breakaway speed that could be a catalyst in this game.

Running the football will also limit what Denver’s pass rush specialists in linebacker Von Miller and defensive ends Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe will be able to do to Joe Flacco.

With the right offensive line now in place, the Ravens will be able to use short screens and dump-offs to Rice and Pierce so that they can be effective in the passing game as well. If the running game gets going, Joe Flacco will be able to get in a rhythm and the offense as a whole will be off and running.

Limit What Peyton Manning Does – In the first half of the game on Dec. 16th, the Ravens confused Peyton Manning at times with certain looks and blitzes. His throws weren’t as crisp and he looked uncomfortable in the pocket. If not for a Joe Flacco pick 6 interception at the two-yard line, it would have been 10-7 at the half.

Because of that, he wasn’t able to get into a good rhythm in the 1st half but the great quarterback he is, adjusted and started to pick the defense apart. In this match-up, the Ravens defense will have to figure out how to take what they did in the 1st half and make it work in the 2nd half as well.

Getting pressure on Peyton is key because he’s not going to run out of the pocket and get a first down with his legs. His offense is built on timely routes and getting rid of the football quick, so corner back play will be huge for the Ravens.

The Broncos have big, physical receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and an effective running game with the emergence of Knowshon Moreno. Decker torched the Ravens secondary for 133 yards and a touchdown but didn’t allow much to Thomas, just four catches for 13 yards. Corners Cary Williams and Corey Graham will have to play physical at the line and jam these guys trying to disrupt the timing routes from Manning. Chykie Brown is another factor for the Ravens and has played well as of late.

The key for the Broncos in the 2nd half was an effective run game which opened things up for Manning. Moreno gashed the Ravens for 118 yards in the first meeting, gaining huge chunk plays, something the Ravens can’t afford this time around. The return of Ray Lewis who looked fresh last Sunday and a healthy Dannell Ellerbe will hope to slow Denver’s offense down. These guys are healthy at the right time, that’s a big factor in the latest match-up with Manning.

Limiting big yardage plays from Manning is critical to victory. Manning’s seven plays of 40+ yards is in the lower third of quarterbacks in the NFL, but third in the NFL with 64 plays of 20+ yards or more.

Winning The Turnover Battle/ Dominate Special Teams  – The third key is the same as last week. Because of the cold weather Saturday, protecting the football and the chess game that is field position are keys for both teams. The Ravens were lucky Ray Rice’s two fumbles didn’t cost them playing a lesser opponent, however those mistakes could put the Ravens in an early hole because of the caliber team the Broncos are.

The Ravens lost in time of possession to the Colts (37:32-to-22:28) while the Broncos were 8th in the NFL this year in time of possession at 31:16. With the potential for a grind-it-out type game, special teams plays a huge factor in this one.

After an off game in the final week of the regular season, Sam Koch bounced back against the Colts to have a nice game. Overall during the season, Koch was his usual solid self, averaging 47.1 yards per punt, the highest average of his career. If he’s able to pin Denver deep in their own territory, the Ravens will feel a lot better about that than giving Peyton Manning the football at midfield or in Ravens territory.

Jacoby Jones has the ability to break a long run from any point on the field on kick/punt returns, so getting him good lanes to run will position the Ravens in short field opportunities.

Of course, with all that’s been talked about, this game could come down to a field goal chance late in the game. The question is when will Justin Tucker be tested?

Fearless Prediction: Ravens 21 Broncos 20

Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.

Matt Lund is a co-host of the BSR Podcast and regular contributor to BSR. A Towson University alum, Matt is a lifelong Baltimore sports fan and native of Charm City working in sports broadcasting.

31 Comments

  1. Von Manning

    January 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    So basically dominate on offense, defense and special teams? Did I understand that right? Those are usually the 3 keys to success for any team.

    The pigeons will abandon the run game like they had to a month ago, Manning won’t be stopped, and Jacoby Jones won’t have an opportunity to return a kick.

    Broncos 31 – Ravens 10

  2. Von Manning

    January 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    “Fearless Prediction: Ravens 21 Broncos 20″

    If anyone in Baltimore thinks that AARP-aged defense is holding the #2 scoring offense in the NFL to 20 points at home, you’re sorely mistaken. This offense roles out of bed and puts up 24 at home, and after a brief stretch puts up 30.

    The ONLY chance the Ravens have is if their offense somehow scores 10-12 points above their season average…. on the road…. against the #4 overall defense in the NFL (#1 in the AFC). Good luck!

  3. JarJar

    January 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    When your life spirals into trolling fan sites of the other team…

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      …. Talk to your fellow Raven fans. They came to our boards and invited us over to have some friendly debate. So far, I haven’t seen any debate at all… It’s just been me making factual statment after factual statement that points to Denver winning this game…

      • JarJar

        January 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

        Ravens were missing 7 starters in the last game vrs the Broncos. In addition to the fact the Ravens are the only 500+ team the Broncos have beat in their winning streak. Trent Dilfer has as many SB as Peyton Manning. And there has only been one other game in Denver that the game time temp was below 40.

        • Von Manning

          January 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm

          Sorry, those 7 “starters” don’t make up the 31-3 hole your team was in mid 4th quarter. Denver stomped Baltimore out, and beat Cincinatti (who beat you in week 17) during our 11 game win streak. You guys also lost to the Eagles, Steelers and Redskins, so don’t go bringing out who we beat and who we didn’t. We didn’t lose to two non playoff teams. Trent Dilfer also has as many Super Bowls as Brett Favre and 1 more than Dan Marino. I guess those two guys aren’t any good either. Manning put up 80% completions, 304 yards and 3 TDs in week 17 when the temperature at half time was in the 20s. Nice try, though….

          • JarJar

            January 18, 2013 at 9:32 am

            U Mad Bro?

  4. Von Manning

    January 11, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Oh JarJar… How many Super Bowls has Flacco won? Flacco’s playoff record the past 5 years = 6-4 with 0 Super Bowls. Manning’s playoff record the past 5 years = 6-4 with 1 Super Bowl. So keep bringing up past records and stats that have no bearing on this game… Also, Manning never once had the #4 ranked defense in the NFL on his side going into the playoffs at any point in his career….. he does now.

  5. Von Manning

    January 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Oh, since Raven’s fans seem to be so into past statistics as to why their team will win, here’s a stat: The Broncos are 13-3 all time in home playoff games.

  6. direwolfc

    January 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Haha some dude rolls in from Denver to put up six replies in the comments section? As Bart Scott would say…CAN’T WAIT

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      I’d do it all day, baby… Unfortunately, the fanbase in Baltimore isn’t sophisticated enough to come up with an argument other than weather, past records, and the magical force Ray Lewis’ retirement shenanigans will supposedly have on the road, against a far superior team.

  7. JarJar

    January 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I notice how you didn’t have anything to say about how you beat a team missing 7 starters? Ray may be past his prime but still had 13 tackles last week.

  8. JarJar

    January 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Also I state again the Ravens are the only 500 team you have beaten in your magical winning streak. And again they were missing 7 starters…

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I also state that the Broncos beat the Bengals during the win streak, who were a playoff team and ended with a 10-6 record. I STILL state that the Ravens have lost to two non-playoff teams when they were completely healthy.

      I DID mention the 7 starters being missed. If you would read… oh wait you’re from baltimore, I forgot the literacy rate there is less than your crime and unemployment rates.

  9. JarJar

    January 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Bengals were not 500 when you beat them. I missed your reply hard to imagine when you posted 80 percent of the replies on this post. Classy mentioning crime and unemployment. I believe it is Baltimore. I’d use spell check before commenting about literacy.

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      I’m pretty sure I spelled BALTIMORE correctly, I just didn’t capitalize it… done on purpose. As for the Bengals, did you notice how after they lost to the Broncos they went 7-1 (including beating you guys) and made it to the playoffs? You don’t look at the record of the team at the time, as the Broncos were once 2-3. You look at the end result, and that end result shows us beating two playoff teams, including smashing you guys.

  10. Ravens2488

    January 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Von Manning… Here’s some good stats for you that you can take to the bank…

    Dealing with weather was always an issue for Peyton Manning when he was playing indoors for the Colts, as he’s 0-3 in playoff games played below 50 degrees, and has just one win (in six tries) when it’s below 60 degrees.

    Start worrying Denver cause your going down quicker than a whore in a sausage factory…

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Lol…. You just said on the other thread that you’re not hanging your hopes on the weather stat. That’s literally all you fans have to hope for. What you don’t realize is that Joe Flacco has never played a football game at altitude. Neither has Ray Rice. How do you think that’ll effect them?

      And I PROMISE you… what Harbaugh is doing by keeping them in Baltimore until later tonight, is NOT the way to go. If anything, you bring your team out 3 days early and run some practices to get the players acclimated to the altitude as much as possible well before the game. The altitude is no joke if you’re not used to it, and the COLD air on top of that amplifies the burning in the lungs.

    • Von Manning

      January 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      I’ve been listening to Baltimore sports talk radio this week and most people out there seem to believe that the altitude effect is all mental. Uh… What? It’s a scientific fact that there is less air up here by a large margin and it does have a significant effect on the body if you’re not used to it. Why do you think olympic athletes come here to train? I speak from experience as I was involved in military physical fitness testing a few years back and the United States military gives candidates anywhere from a minute to 2 minutes of adjustment off their time because of the altitude.

      The Bmore defense will be sucking air by the 2nd quarter and it’s not going to get better as the game goes on.

      • JarJar

        January 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        Stay in school bro. The fact is no peer reviewed study has ever proven training at altitude helps do anything.

        “While this intensifies physical effort and is used to retrain athletes after injury, studies have very rarely reported improvements in red blood cell volume, VO2max and endurance performance.”

        http://www.australasianscience.com.au/article/issue-september-2011/higher-calling-does-altitude-training-work.html

        • JarJar

          January 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm

          http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/11/792.abstract

          The general practice of altitude training is widely accepted as a means to enhance sport performance despite a lack of rigorous scientific studies. For example, the scientific gold-standard design of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial has never been conducted on altitude training.

  11. Deepwater805

    January 12, 2013 at 4:51 am

    The only thing that the Ravens win against the Broncos will be a better draft pick in April. Because Peyton’s gonna pluck the Ravens clean. There’s gonna be so many plucked black feathers laying around Mile High it’ll look like opening day for crow season down at the county dump….

  12. Ravens2488

    January 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

    You know what they do to horses that break their leg(s)? They shoot em… Get ready for alot of horses breaking their legs today Hoss… Don’t worry, the Ravens will put them out of their misery…

  13. Ravens2488

    January 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    RAVENS WIN! RAVENS WIN!!! Any Bronco fans on around???

    Cold weather + Playoffs + Manning = CHOKE!

  14. JarJar

    January 12, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Von Manning how does Peyton’s spunk taste now. I bet its a little bit salty. 0-4 in Cold Weather.

  15. NattyBroh

    January 13, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Hahahahahaha Von Manning. You’re an asshole. Eat crow. Or should I say..eat raven. Ass.

  16. Wad

    January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

    @Von: Boo. Hoo.

  17. spy

    January 13, 2013 at 11:26 am

    You Denver fans need to look at my post in your sports pages today , it says it all and I kept it clean , sort of……………..go back where you belong , the thin air makes things look better than they really are ,,,,,,go Ravens………..

  18. The Intimidator

    January 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Spy with a shot across the Broncos bow! Going into their house and busting on them! I’m impressed!

  19. JarJar

    January 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Can the admin of the site email the comments to Von Manning?

    • spy

      January 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      In the Denver Post,,,,article called ‘Bronco’s fans shocked,,,,,,,,,,,,,posted yesterday at 11:– am ,,,,,32828034 and 328288156………………….there are several peplies to my comments but none worth commenting on again,,,,,,,,,what a bunch of whiners……………….