Upon Further Review - Week 5 - Broncos vs. Baltimore - "Quoth the Raven"

The Broncos travel to the East Coast to take on the Baltimore Ravens for the second consecutive season, marking the first time since 2004-05 (Jacksonville) that the club has faced a non-divisional opponent on the road two years in a row. The Ravens are 3-1, and tied for first in AFC North. The Broncos are evened up at 2-2, and tied for second in AFC West. Baltimore defeated the Steelers 17-14 at Pittsburgh on a late touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds remaining. Meanwhile, the Broncos are coming off a hard won effort against the Tennessee Titans 26 -20 and are looking to make it two for the road. The team's name is a reference to the poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, who lived and worked in Baltimore at various points during his life and is buried in the city. So I thought to invoke some Poesy if you will, into this review.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary. Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (or game film as it were)

The Kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium is set for 1 p.m. EDT this Sunday, making it one of the early games. CBS is running the Nationwide Broadcast. Ian Eagle will do the play-by-play and Dan Fouts will do the off-color commentary for the game. Check here to see if the game is broadcast in your area.

'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

M&T Bank Stadium originally featured a natural grass surface. However, an artificial surface, Sportexe Momentum Turf, was installed for the 2003 season. The forecast for Sunday is listing favorable conditions for the game, so the weather should not be a factor. For an up-to-date glimpse at the weather, check here.


                                                                                                                            Sunny

High Low
74°F 56°F
Precip: 0% Spectator Index: 10

                                                                                                             Wind Impact: LIGHT

                                                                                                               NNW at 7.0 mph

"Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore - Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"

In WEEK 1, the Ravens took the first game of the regular season 10-9 over the New York Jets, in a game spotlighted by a lot of trash talking in the days leading up to it. The Ravens gave up several costly turnovers but the defense shut the door each time the Jets tried to capitalize. Baltimore took advantage of ill-timed penalties by the home team. The Jets committed 14 penalties in their season-opening loss. Their vaunted defense was responsible for half of those. The Ravens rushed for only 49 yards, yet they controlled the ball for nearly 38 minutes. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Baltimore's key off-season acquisition, toyed with New York's secondary for 110 yards on seven catches and the Raven's defense outplayed its more ballyhooed rival by allowing just 176 yards and nearly blanking the Jets on third downs; New York was 1 of 11 in that department. Defensively, the Ravens limited the Jets to 176 yards and six first downs, allowed Mark Sanchez just 74 yards passing and LaDainian Tomlinson's New York debut was a disappointing 62 yards.

WEEK 2
's contest rolled around and the Ravens traveled to Cincinnati for a game versus a divisional nemesis. The Bengals have had Baltimore's number for a few years and this time was no different. Cincy clawed the Ravens, 15-10, despite another stellar day by their defense despite another stellar day by their defense. Mike Nugent kicked a career-high five field goals and the Bengals' defense rose to the occasion to hold on for a victory. Joe Flacco spent most of the game dodging a tenacious Bengal blitz that threw him off track with his receivers. Bernard Scott returned a kickoff 60 yards to set up Nugent's go-ahead kick from 38 yards. Then Brandon Johnson intercepted Joe Flacco's tipped pass and returned it to the Ravens 11-yard line. That setup Nugent's fifth field goal with 2:48 remaining.

In WEEK 3, the Ravens stingy defense finally allowed a touchdown (2 actually). Former Bronco Peyton Hillis ran 22 times for a career-high 144 yards including a 48-yard touchdown run for the win-less Browns. Cleveland passed the ball pretty well, too. Seneca Wallace went 18 for 24 for 141 yards and a score. But the difference was Joe Flacco, who rebounded back from a 4 interception performance against the Bengals going 22 for 31 and 262 yards without an interception. He threw three touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin as Baltimore rallied for a 24-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Boldin finished the day catching eight passes for 142 yards in a sensational performance. Third down conversions played a role in this game as well. Baltimore was 50% and the Browns went 36.4% in one of the main stats that matter.

This set the stage for the 2-1 Ravens to meet the 3-0 Steelers in WEEK 4 in another divisional match-up. Joe Flacco withstood Pittsburgh's goal-line stand and go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes to throw an 18-yard scoring pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the final minute beating the Men of Steel 17-14. Pittsburgh took a 14-10 lead on Rashard Mendenhall’s 7-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, and appeared ready to win after turning away Baltimore on third and fourth-down plays from the 2 with over 2 minutes remaining. But a holding call on a punt gave Baltimore the ball at Pittsburgh’s 40 with 55 seconds remaining, and Flacco found Anquan Boldin on two passes for 12 yards and Houshmandzadeh for 10 to set up the winning score. The Raven's offensive line did a good job containing the Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. The pair of Pro Bowlers were held without a sack last Sunday. RT Marshal Yanda stonewalled Woodley repeatedly while LT Michael Oher took care of Harrison.

The Ravens won despite being held to 70 yards rushing. Willis McGahee had 14 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown and Ray Rice, playing despite a bruised right knee, had eight carries for 20 yards -- 121 fewer than he had in Pittsburgh last season.

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

THE INJURY FACTOR

WR Donte' Stallworth is out with a broken foot and is not expected to be back until after the Raven's Bye Week (Week 8).

OT Jared Gaither (out) is getting a revaluation after he started getting back spasms again last week. He has only practiced once over the past two months. There is a chance he could be placed on injured reserve.

DE Paul Kruger is getting an MRI for a sprained knee and definitely Will Not Play.

LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder) definitely Will Not Play in Sunday's game.

LB Edgar Jones (thigh) was Limited in practice on Thursday.

Cory Redding sat out Sunday's win against the Steelers. He is recovering from a concussion suffered in the victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 26. Cory wasn't listed on Thursday's Injury Report, but we all understand the severity of concussions.

CB Josh Wilson was inactive for the Steeler game but is expected to be back in action against the Broncos. He normally plays nickel and contributes on special teams.

TE Todd Heap (shoulder), RB Ray Rice (knee) and RB Le'Ron McClain (shoulder) were Full Participants in practice on Thursday.

Darkness there, and nothing more.

OFFENSE

Baltimore is 27th in Points scored with 15.2 per game, 22nd in Total yards with 306.5, 15th in Passing yards with 222.2 and 24th in rushing yards with 84.2 per game.

Quarterback Joe Flacco had six turnovers in his first two games. He followed that up with only one mistake in the next two. The 25-year old quarterback was 24 of 37 for 256 yards and an interception last week. The trouble is, do you get Joe Flacco from week 2 and his passer rating of 23.8 or will the Broncos face the Week 3 version's 128.7 passer rating.

Flacco has two new toys in this years arsenal. Wide Receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Boldin is leading the team with 27 receptions, 355 yards and 3 touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh signed with the Ravens a week before the start of the season and caught the game-winning touchdown pass last week. No. 2 WR Derrick Mason has quietly added 13 grabs for 162 yards and a touchdown. TE Todd Heap has 17 receptions for 188 yards and 12 of those catches were 1st downs.

Ray Rice (60 Rush, 230 yds, 11 Rec 74 yds, 0 TDs) is the workhorse Running Back for Baltimore.  Willis McGahee (30 Rush, 76 yds, 2 TDs) is the short yardage man and Le'Ron McClain (8 rushes 20yds, 6 Rec. 41 yds) paves the way at Fullback. This trio of backs are the point of emphasis for the Broncos rush defense.

The Line is anchored by 13 year veteran Center Matt Birk (6-4, 310). The Guards are Ben Grubbs (6-3, 310, 4th yr) and Chris Chester (6-3, 315, 5th yr). Switching from Right Tackle to the Left side this year is the famous Michael Oher (6-4, 313, 2nd yr). On the right side, filling in for Jered Gaither, is Marshal Yanda (6-3, 313, 4th yr). This is the unit the Broncos must control, or "out-nasty" to win this contest.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.

DEFENSE

The Ravens Defense is allowing 13.8 points per game (5th). They are 2nd in the league for Total yards against with 235.8. They are 1st in the league with the least Passing yards allowed with 119.0, and are 21st against the Rush with 116.8 allowed per game. Yes the Ravens may have a great defense, but their minus-seven turnover ratio is the worst in the League.

In a numbers situation, Baltimore took a gamble and waived Defensive End Trevor Pryce to make room for Safety Ken Hamlin during Steelers Week. Rex Ryan took advantage of Trevor's availability and signed him to the Jets. Even still, Baltimore is getting younger on their D-Line. They started 5th year DE Brandon McKinney to replace Pryce. They also worked 2nd year DE Paul Kruger and rookie DT Terrence Cody into the lineup. And DT Haloti Ngata is a beast.

The Steelers have shown the folly of running at Ngata last week. Maybe they thought since Peyton Hillis rumbled through Baltimore’s defense for 144 yards the prior week, their game plan would be simple. Ngata finished 11 tackles and added a sack and two quarterback hits as part of the unit that held the Steelers to just 84 total rushing yards. Ray Lewis had 13 tackles himself, but Ngata is playing as well as any defensive player in the league right now. He's big, he's fast and he's Samoan...they kick ass.

The Linebacking Unit for Baltimore is well known. If you are familiar with football, chances are you know about Ray Lewis. Ray Ray (20 Tackles, 10 Assists, 1 Sack and 1 INT) is one of the leaders of the Ravens, and with the absence of Ed Reed, the responsibility falls solely on him. If you play on Offense in the NFL and haven't met Ray Lewis, it won't be long before he introduces himself. Jameel McClain plays beside Lewis at the Inside Linebacker position and Terrell Suggs (3 sacks, 1 FF) along with Jarrett Johnson man the Outside.

In the Defensive backfield, Fabian Washington (7 Tackles, 4 Passes defensed) and Chris Carr (14 TKL, 3 PD) man the Corners. Strong Safety Dawan Landry (26 TKL, 1 Sack, 1 Fum Rec) Run supports well and 3rd year man Tom Zbikowski (12 TKL) is doing his best to fill in for All Pro Free Safety Ed Reed. Landry is the stud here. The CB's are only adequate because of the Ravens surging Pass rush.

Merely this and nothing more.

SPECIAL TEAMS


Billy Cundiff is the Raven's Kicker. He is 4 for 6 on Field Goals, with a long of 49. His career long is 56. He is 100% on Extra Points. On Kickoffs, Cundiff averages between 1 and two yards deep in the end zone. He has Kicked off 14 times so far this season. Seven have been touchbacks and seven have been returned an average of 28.7 yards.

The Long Snapping Specialist is Morgan Cox, a rookie out of Tennessee.

The Punting duties are filled by Sam Koch. Sam has punted 19 times for an average of 40.7 yards. His net yardage is a paltry 36.9. His longest punt this year has gone 60 yards and he has placed 10 punts inside the 20 yard line. Nine punts have been returned for an 8 yard average.

The Kick Returner is Jalen Parmele. Jalen has returned 12 Kickoffs an average of 23 yards. His has a long return of 39 yards.

Returning Punts is Tom Zbikowski, with 14 returns for a 5.7 average and a long of 20 yards. That is below average returning. Zbikowski has also returned 2 Kickoffs for 28 yards.

As you can see, the Broncos should have the edge in the Special Teams area. Let us hope they can use it to their advantage.

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting. On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

The View from the Cheap Seats--by Brian Shrout

Often times when looking at an opponent, it is easy to buy into popular perceptions of that team. Baltimore is one of those "monster under the bed" type teams for Denver. They are seen as a powerful, smash-mouth, defensive juggernaut with an up-and-coming offense. While it is true that the Ravens are a solid team on both sides of the ball, most Broncos fans filter their perception through the final score of last year's game: 30-7. What is often forgotten in that game is that the score was only 16-7 entering the fourth quarter. Another thing that is pointed to for this perception is the fact that Baltimore's defense is currently ranked 5th in points allowed, 1st in yards allowed, and 1st in passing yards allowed. Yet, those numbers may not be as impressive as one might think.

In Week 1, Baltimore beat the Jets. The Jets' offense is currently ranked 6th in points (pretty impressive), 14th in yards (not quite as impressive) and 25th in passing yards (not good at all). In Week 2, the Ravens lost to Cincinnati. The Bengals are currently ranked 14th in points (not so good), 10th in yards (pretty good), and 6th in passing yards (dang good). Week 3 saw Baltimore beat Cleveland. The Browns are currently ranked 24th in points (not good), 21st in yards (also not good), and 22nd in passing yards (still not good). Baltimore also managed a win over the Steelers in Week 4. Pittsburgh's offense is currently ranked 12th in points (pretty good), 29th in yards (not good), and 31st in passing yards (still not good).

The view from the cheap seats would suggest that the Broncos offense should match up well against the Ravens' defense. Of Baltimore's first four opponents, only the Jets' offense ranked higher in points than Denver. None of the four ranked higher in yards or passing yards. In fact, three of the Ravens' four opponents are ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in passing yards.

Defensively, we are also a good match. The Ravens are 27th in points scored, the Broncos 20th in points allowed. Baltimore is 22nd in yards amassed, Denver is 16th in yards allowed. The Ravens: 15th in passing yards amassed; the Broncos: 12th in passing yards allowed. Baltimore is 24th in rushing yards amassed, while Denver is 12th in rushing yards allowed.

From the cheap seats, it would appear that the Broncos match up favorably against the Ravens. I would anticipate a hard fought, tough, close game similar to last week's game against the Titans. I would also anticipate a similar outcome to last week's -- a Broncos' win in a close game.

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'

SERIES HISTORY

The Broncos are 3-4 all-time against the Ravens, including 0-3 on the road. A 30-7 loss last season after coming off the Bye Week was the first in a four-game losing streak for the Broncos.

Kyle Orton has a 9-2 career record as a starter in the month of October. That ranks him first in the NFL among active starting quarterbacks. Orton was 3-0 in the month of October in his first year with the club in 2009, is 1-0 this season during October.

The Line in Vegas has Baltimore by 7 points.


THE BOTTOM LINE


There are always the same issues here. Run the ball and Stop the run. But a couple things stand out to me this week:

Quarterback Pressure. When you give Flacco time, he steps into his throws and has better mechanics.

The Big Play. Even without Domonique Foxworth and Ed Reed, the Ravens pass defense is number one in the league, but I believe it is because of their pass rush. Denver has the number one passing offense and should use their deep pass weapon to get ahead of Baltimore.

The Ravens have already played three top defenses on the road so far this season. The New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are no slouches. It will take a gritty physical performance by the Broncos Offensive Line and this is the game to show the entire league that they won't be pushed around.

This won't be a Battle of the Titans, that was last week, but this game has all the elements of a head-on collision.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
The Broncos will pass and surely score,
and Lo, the Baltimore Birds will have their way

Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'



Go Broncos!

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