Ladies and Gentleman, men and women, boys and girls of all ages.
The time we have waited for has arrived. When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, we all had high hopes of the Broncos being able to make a playoff run. The Broncos are two more wins away from playing in the Superbowl and the Broncos are the favorites this week, and will be the favorites should the team advance to next week's conference championship. Peyton Manning has won nine straight games against the Ravens and we hope they can make it ten.
Weeks ago, the Broncos took on the Baltimore Ravens and commanded that game until some last minute big plays by Baltimore. The Broncos lead that game 31-3 in the fourth quarter and the game never felt to be in question after Chris Harris' 98 yard interception return.
That was the only game this season that the Broncos did not turn the ball over which leads me to my first key to victory:
1. AVOID TURNOVERS
The Broncos are a great enough team that against the worst or even above average teams, the Broncos can get away with a turnover or two and still manage to find a way to win. That is part of the package when you have PFM passing the ball. However, the Broncos lost three games, all to three playoff teams who are all remaining in the second round.
When you look at why the Broncos lost the road game against the Falcons, at least in my meaningless opinion, it came down to what happened in the longest first quarter I have ever seen (that took like way over an hour didn't it?). Peyton Manning threw three first quarter interceptions in a loud indoor stadium, which by another point is why it is HUGE that the team is playing at home throughout the AFC. Also, do not forget that Knowshon Moreno, in the last game he played up until Willis McGahee's injury, fumbled the ball late in the first quarter to make it four turnovers. It sounds pretty cliche. Turnovers will lose you any game, but it has been a problem for the Broncos this year and the Ravens will make you pay.
2. EXPLOIT RAY LEWIS IN COVERAGE
Here is the thing. Ray Lewis is the true definition of a warrior. Lewis is in the conversation for the greatest MLB of all time. However, he is no longer at that level. On Saturday, Ray will do his dances and scream at his players, but his play on the field can now be exploited. He is still a good tackler. Heck, he had 13 tackles and a hilarious dropped interception. Apparently robot arms have not learned to catch yet.
Many of those 13 tackles were down field and it is a skewed stat. Many tackles were unblocked and according to Pro Football Focus, Lewis gave up four first downs in coverage and another was dropped. Lewis in coverage was slow and could easily be beat. Do you think we could put Demaryius Thomas, the strongest most physical player the Broncos have at a skilled position could line up in the slot and beat Lewis? I think it is for sure a possibility. The middle of the field will be open against Baltimore, especially with the long pass plays we got on them last game.
3. TAKE AWAY THE BIG PLAY
The Ravens made big plays against the Colts on Sunday like it was their day job. Joe Flacco went deep seven times and completed five of them for 157 yards and one touchdown. He got a lot of help from Anquan Boldin who was making some insane receptions, but at the end of the day, he still made those plays.
The Ravens also got some big plays by Bernard Pierce who had to step in for Ray Rice who ate a little too much popcorn before the game. Pierce had a run of 48 and Rice had a reception of 47. Last time the Broncos played the Ravens, Chris Harris covered Anquan Boldin well. Harris was targeted twice but kept Boldin to 0 receptions. Bailey was targeted once and held Boldin to zero receptions as well. Between Harris and Bailey, Torrey Smith was held to one reception as well.
4. OFFENSIVE LINE SUCCESS
Baltmore's defense has played with success as of late. Was their defensive line that good against Indianapolis or was the Colts offensive line that bad? Probably a bit in the middle but the key is strong offensive line play. The Broncos won't win without a strong run game. In the last couple games of the season, Manny Ramirez has been surprisingly awesome but we still hope Chris Kuper will take his place. Ryan Clady missed some time last week but should be fine to play. Manning will need protection so we do not have the multiple 3 and outs like we did last time against Baltimore.
These are the four x-factors to me. I could probably think of more, but I want to hear your thoughts. Agree or disagree? What is the X-Factor for the Broncos on Saturday?