In preparation for this weeks exciting game we wanted to spend some time with one of the writers from the Baltimore Ravens SB Nation site. Bruce Raffel was nice enough to answer a few of my questions and help me understand where the enemy is coming from.
Here is the link to the questions he asked and my answers.
1. The Ravens started strong, and not just against weak opponents, you beat the Bengals, Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys. What has been the change the past two weeks compared to the first 11 games?
This issues that plagued the Ravens in those close games, even ugly wins, have just caught up with them. Injuries throughout the defense has limited what the team can do, but excuses aside, some of the defensive playcalling, such as rushing only three has come back to burn them. Offensively, the offensive line has not given Joe Flacco the protection, which causes him to fold, figuratively and literally under pressure.
2. Joe Flacco is having a very good year, completing 60% of his passes and has a 2:1 TD:INT ratio, and Ray Rice is obviously a playmaker, along with Torrey Smith and Anquan Bolden, they headline an offense that is the 9th ranked scoring-wise. What weaknesses do you see in the Ravens offense that the Broncos may try and attack?
The Ravens offense is very predictable, but has the potential to be tough to defend, as they have a deep threat (Torrey Smith) s well as a possession receiver (Anquan Boldin), plus a solid TE (Dennis Pitta) and of course, Ray Rice out of the backfield. However, the offensive line is not good and most importantly, Flacco under pressure is a mere shadow of his self with time. Blitz him all day long and he will fold, fumble and throw interceptions. Give him time and he has among the strongest arms in the league. Stack the line and dare him to beat you with his arm.
3. The once stout Ravens run defense is currently ranked 25th, now it's clear injuries have played a role in the degradation of the defense, so what have the Ravens coaches done to try and shore up their defensive line in recent weeks and how do you think they'll fair against the Broncos offensive line and run game?
The injuries on the defense have mounted up as the season has progressed. Terrell Suggs missed the first six games as well as the recent one. CB Ladarius Webb was lost for the season while CB Jimmy Smith has missed the last bunch of games. Ed Reed is playing with one shoulder and cannot tackle at all. Haloti Ngata is playing with an injury and the team has also lost Ray Lewis' replacement, Dannell Ellerbe fora few games. The reserves have been decent but tackling is a problem. Teams run early and often against the Ravens, but they have seemed to adjust in the second half. Putting pressure on the QB has been their weakest link, which is real scary with Manning coming up Sunday.
4. The Broncos offense has grown tremendously under Peyton Manning and a solid run game, what do you think the Ravens gameplan will be against the Broncos offense?
I have no idea how Ravens defensive coordinator will play this. If he only rushes three like he did last week at times, Peyton will just wait and find the open guy. If the Ravens blitz, Manning will find a hot read. I say rsh4-5 every time he drops back and hope to keep players in front as he is not the type of QB to go deep too often.
5. Returner Jacoby Jones has made a big splash since arriving in Baltimore, do you look at him as a guy who can change games?
Absolutely. Jones has changed field position often this season and been a pleasant surprise as a returner. However, he knows he is good and sometimes fields ball he should let drop and takes chances bringing it out of the end zone, but the results have been tough to argue with.
6. Looking at your roster, who do you feel are Pro Bowl worthy?
In the Ravens backfield, Vonta Leach is the best blocking FB in the league, regularly pancaking defenders to open holes for Rice. Rice is not having a Pro Bowl year, despite being among the league leaders in all-purpose yardage. Defensively, Ngata is still one of the best in the trenches and even though Ed Reed gets all the hype, strong safety Bernard Pollard might be the most physical safety and hardest hitter at that position in the NFL. OF course, Jacoby Jones has earned the kick returner honors.
Bonus Question: Who wins and why?
I've picked the Ravens to win every game this season and other than the Texans game, they should have. Baltimore is one of the toughest places to play for visitors and the home loss to the Steelers two weeks ago was the first in over 2 years. Losing two in a row was the first time in over 3 years. However, the way the defense and offense seem to be playing, while anything is possible in this crazy NFL, I cannot see Baltimore stopping Peyton Manning, who is having an All-Pro season. I'm picking the Broncos to continue the Ravens losing streak, but with a Steelers or Bengals, loss, this Ravens team will still back into the playoffs one way or another. Denver 30-23.
I'm pretty excited for this game, and it may present the last trial for the Broncos before the playoffs, and remember, the Broncos have only beaten a team with a winning record twice this season, let's make it three.