The Baltimore Ravens game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday is being billed as the first real test for the secondary of the Ravens. The Broncos head to Baltimore and with them they bring the leagues most productive passing attack, led by arguably the leagues hottest quarterback. Meanwhile the Ravens are the best in the NFL at defending the pass through four games. What was thought to have been a weakness heading into the season has become a strength. You can argue that the Ravens success against the pass has been the result of playing the Browns and facing the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger, and they did face the Jets on a night Mark Sanchez was not allowed to throw the ball more than 10 yards down-field. Either way you shake it, the leagues best pass offense is matching-up with the leagues best pass defense. Who will flinch and what do the Ravens need to do to slow down Kyle Orton and the fast break Broncos.
Against the Run: Were it not for a poor running game we might be hearing how the Broncos are on pace to become one of the more prolific offenses in the history of the NFL. But these are not your big brothers Broncos, where 1,000 yard backs grow on trees. In fact at the pace they are going ( a paltry 55 yards per game) the Broncos will not rush for 1,000 yards as as team. One would think that this would make the Broncos very one dimensional and that the Ravens need not pay too much attention to Denver’s ground game. If you listen to Denver coach Josh McDaniels, the Broncos will look to run the ball. How much of that is posturing, and how much of it is a coach who realizes it is tough to win in the NFL when your QB is passing the ball 50 times a game. The problem for Denver is twofold, they have a below average run blocking line and they are not healthy at tailback. It looks like they will be without RB Knowshon Moreno and FB Spencer Larsen, making it less likely that they will attempt to control the clock with their ground game. The Ravens are getting tremendous play fro NT Haloti Ngata, who has been virtually unblockable. Ngata, combined with the play of LB’s Terrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnson and Ray Lewis should shut down most anything the Broncos try on the ground. The big question is, how much below the Broncos 2.2 yards per carry can the Ravens hold the Denver RB’s.
Against the Pass: The bad news is that Orton is lighting things up throw the air and looks much improved from last season, despite no longer having Brandon Marshall as a primary target. Orton has done a great job of finding the open man and his quartet of receivers is making plays. The good news is that none of the receivers is what I would consider a dynamic play-maker. Rookie Demayrius Thomas has the size and speed to become one, but he is not there yet. The Ravens do need to contain the resurgent Brandon Lloyd and limit Eddie Royal once he gets the ball in his hands. The Ravens secondary will be tested, but they do have the speed among the corners to run with the Denver receivers. I think we will see a lot more nickle and dime coverage than we have seen so far this year. Chris Carr needs to continue his strong play in the slot and look for Josh Wilson and maybe Cary Williams to see more time on defense. The other way to slow down Denver passing the ball is to hit Orton. Orton looked shell shocked last year after Johnson sacked him on the first play of the game. Denver has given up 11 sacks through 4 games. Part of that is because Orton has dropped back to throw so much, but they also have struggled to protect him. The Ravens will need to decide whether or not they can get enough pressure rushing just four, or if they will need to blitz and possibly open some holes in the coverage. It could be an interesting chess match between the coaching staffs.
I do think Denver will have some success moving the ball in this game, but they have struggled in the red zone. The Ravens, however, are one of the leagues best defenses when the field is short. Look for the Ravens to hold the Broncos to 17 or fewer points and win the turnover battle. If they do those things they should win comfortably.