Divisional round! The Broncos are facing a bi-polar team this week in the Ravens, who have the talent to beat the Patriots but can play themselves out against Eagles. At their best they can beat anyone but at their worst they can lose to bottom-of-the-barrel teams. Now having said that I wanted to take a look at things that will likely happen but might surprised fans, but shouldn't.
As in the past I'll be listing a few things that are likely to happen and explain why they may be counter-intuitive. Now there aren't predictions I'll be making, rather looking at expectations and seeing how they lineup with history.
Don't Be Surprised If... The Running Backs Have One of the Best Games of the Season
One of the biggest story lines among the media and fans this week has been Peyton and the cold, well anyone who watched the last game or even the past few weeks knows that won't be an issue, not because it won't affect his throwing (though I doubt it does) it's because the run game has been dominating. The last time the Broncos faced the Ravens Moreno ran away on 21 carries for 115 yards for 5.5 yards per carry and a touchdown. Hillman wasn't nearly as effective and he may not even be playing in this game but Jacob Hester also had a solid showing in that game in the red zone and short yardage with 20 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos may not have the most effective run game (only 3.8 yards per carry) but that doesn't stop them from running. The Broncos currently rank 9th in the league in rushing attempts and that's not likely going to change against a slow Ravens defense, especially if the Broncos can take it outside away from that talent on the inside of the Ravens defense.
Don't Be Surprised If... A Broncos Tight End Scores at Least One Touchdown
As I just mentioned I'm not expecting Manning to top 300 yards passing but I do expect at him to score at least two touchdowns. So far this season it's been clear Eric Decker is the red zone weapon of choice but this season a Broncos tight end has scored a touchdown in seven games this season and I expect that trend to continue and especially considering the Ravens lack the speed and coverage ability at linebacker to keep up with Dreessen, Tamme and Green.
Don't Be Surprised If... The Ravens Offense Has a Good Game
One of the biggest things overlooked from the last Broncos-Ravens game was the loss of Torrey Smith very early in that game. I've seen a few times recently how Chris Harris and Champ Bailey held Smith to just one reception and while they did have good games, Smith left the game early and saying he was shut down is hardly the truth.
It should also be noted that outside of Ray Rice, Smith may be one of the biggest focal points of that offense. If you watch the first quarter of the past game you'll see a totally different Baltimore offense with a much better Joe Flacco. The reason Smith is so key is because the Ravens offense is built similar to other Chunk offenses, which centers around a strong run/screen game and the deep pass. No quarterback goes deep more the Joe Flacco, who attempts 20+ yard passes on 17.3% of his total attempts, #1 in the league. For that deep passing game to succeed the Ravens rely on Torrey Smith and the moment he was injured that altered their game plan and weakened their offense more than most expected.
Smith is also how the Ravens score, leading the team with eight touchdown receptions, five of which came on passes of 20 or more yards. Now the Ravens still have other talent in tight end Dennis Pitta and Anquan Bolden, but that offense looks for Torrey Smith when they need a play and with him being healthy again this isn't the same Baltimore offense which means it likely won't be as big a blow out.
Don't Be Surprised If...The Broncos Nickel Formation Players Make the Difference
The Broncos have been spending more and more time in the nickel formation, which means they remove a linebacker (usually Keith Brooking) and substitute in another defensive back. This is valuable because it allows the defense to better combat a spread out offense and quick, outside running backs, both of which are the foundation for the Ravens offense.
When you look at the Broncos nickel defense it actually seems a bit more talented overall. When the Broncos move into the nickel formation that means a few things:
- Derek Wolfe moves inside the defensive line
- Robert Ayers gets on the field
- Chris Harris moves into the slot instead of the outside
- Mike Adams moves into the box
- DJ Williams and Danny Trevathan get onto the field
When I look at these moves the Brocnos defense looks a lot scarier.
As I said, these aren't locks, rather when we look at the history these are the conclusions we can draw. Reasonable expectations are important, that way we won't as easily be surprised, either for good or bad.