DE's: Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata
NT: Ma'ake Kemoeatu
OLB: Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw
ILB: Ray Lewis, Josh Bynes
CB: Corey Graham, Cary Williams
FS: Ed Reed
SS: Bernard Pollard
Baltimore Ravens Defensive Rankings:
Total Defense: 17th (350.9 YPG)
Pass Defense: 17th (228.1 YPG)
Rush Defense: 20th (122.8 YPG)
Scoring Defense: 12th (21.5 PPG)
Denver Broncos Defensive Rankings:
Total Defense: 2nd (290.8 YPG)
Pass Defense: 3rd (199.6 YPG)
Rush Defense: 3rd (91.1 YPG)
Scoring Defense: 4th (18.1 PPG)
The guy to watch out for of this group is Ngata. The big man is a beast and can disrupt the passing and run game. Ngata finished the year with 5 sacks, so like i said he can get after the passer. McPhee and Kemoeatu eat up blockers well and allow the linebackers to get into the backfield. A key to this game is if our Offensive line can man handle the Ravens D-Line again. Last time they played, it wasn't even close. The Broncos will be getting Chris Kuper back more than likely which will be a big help. If the Ravens want to stop the run game, they will need this group to do a better job.
The guy leading this group all year has been Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil finished the year with 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. He has been a force off the edge, and will have to have another good game to get after Flacco. Rookie Derek Wolfe finished the season hot. He recorded a sack in the final 3 games which gave him a season total of 6. Wolfe had a great rookie year, excited to see what he can do next year. In the middle, Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan have been solid, and key in clogging holes in the run game. Mitch Unrein has had a solid year in the middle. Unrein has collapsed the pocket and made is presence known. Robert Ayers have been a key role player as well. The Ravens will probably try to establish the run game, and Ayers is a good run defender, so look for him to come in for Dumervil. This group will have to play great like they last time these two teams played if they want to win.
The Ravens got Ray Lewis back just in time for the playoffs. Now the question is, will he be much of a help? My answer is no. Lewis didn't look all that great last week, and was fueled by emotion and the home crowd. Lewis did lead the team in tackles in last weekends Wild-Card matchup, but that stat is a bit mis-leading. The Broncos can and more than likely pick on Lewis. Terrell Suggs who has been nicked up all year hasn't been the same player. Suggs has only recorded 2 sacks and is far from 100%. The guy to keep an eye on is Paul Kruger. Kruger recorded 2.5 sacks last weekend and lead the team in sacks with 9. The Broncos have protected Manning well, and Mannings quick decision and short passing game makes it hard for defenses to get after him. This group did get 2 sacks on Manning in their last matchup, so we'll see how they do. One factor that could come in play is the Mile High air. I expect the Broncos to use the hurry up offense to tire out the Ravens old defense. We'll see if they're thinking how i'm thinking.
Wesley Woodyard has been a leader of this Broncos defense all year. Woodyard finally got his chance to start, and he took full advantage of it. Woodyard is strong in all facets of the game. He leads the team in tackles with 117, tied for the most Ints on the team with Chris Harris with 3, and also recorded 5.5 sacks. How this guy did not make the Pro-Bowl roster is beyond me. Von Miller has also been a beast. Miller finished the year with 18.5 sacks, 68 tackles and 6 forced fumbles. Miller has a knack for strip sacks, so lets hope he can get after Flacco, and force the ball onto the ground. In the middle, the veteran Keith Brooking has been solid. I did not want this guy to make the roster, be he's held is own in the middle and made me a believer. Brooking finished the year with 54 tackles and 1 sack. In reserve the Broncos have DJ Williams (14 tackles), rookie Danny Trevathan(33 tackles and 1 sack) and Nate Irving (13 tackles). This group will need to get sacks, stop Rice in the backfield, and cover Pitta. I have faith that this group will have a few impact plays.
The Ravens don't have the best secondary. Yes Ed Reed is a Hall Of Famer, but his surrounding cast isn't the best. Peyton picked on Cary Williams last time they played. Cary was the one who covered Decker, and DT beat his guy a few plays but Manning was off target early in the game. Cary Williams and Ed Reed do have 4 Ints, so lets not sleep on this group at all. Corey Graham the other corner has 2 Ints and was decent the last time they played. The Ravens will have Bernard Pollard who did not play last time these two teams played. The Ravens D did hold Manning to only 204 yards, but if a few of Mannings mis-fires were completed, his day would have looked much better. If this group doesn't slow down Manning, the Ravens have no chance.
The Broncos secondary did a good job against the Ravens last time. Chris Harris had the big 98 yard Int return for a TD, Anquan Boldin was held catchless and Smith was held too one catch(He did get hurt though). Champ Bailey has been shutting down WR's all year, and he finished the year with 2 Ints. Chris Harris, who's turning into a very very good corner leads this group with 3 Ints, and has been great all year. Both will get tested, and they need to make sure they do not give up anything deep. The safeties will play a key role for the Broncos defense. If they do their job, the Ravens offense will struggle. Moore, Adams and Leonhard have to keep Pitta in check. Pitta did have a big game(all be it in garbage time) against the Broncos, and is a big athletic target. They also can't blow an assignment and allow a big play deep. Errors like that are what send a team home early in the playoffs. Flacco has struggled mightly on the road, so i expect this group to have a good game.