The Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens are continuing their preparations for Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff game in Denver. We continue our preview of the game with some questions for Bruce Raffel, head man over at Baltimore Beatdown. Let's dive right in to the nest of the enemy to get a Raven's fan perspective on the game.
MHR - From the outside it seems the media and even some Ravens fans are extremely hard on Joe Flacco. What are your feelings on Flacco? Is the criticism justified?
BB - When you look at his home/away stats, definitely yes. The frustration from fans is that we have seen how deadly he can be when given time to throw, but we have also seen how lame he can be under pressure. Which "Joe" will show up Saturday is the question, although the "Road Joe" is usually the one. Then again, the one who played great in the AFCCG last year could re-emerge.
MHR - It was obvious that the return of Ray Lewis had M&T Bank Stadium fired up last weekend. Is there a fear that the game may have been TOO emotional? Are your worried that the Ravens may be a bit flat on Saturday?
BB - It's only emotional before the game and then once the ball is snapped, it's really just another game, but with all the chips on the line. I definitely don't think Ray Lewis will let that happen Saturday, as his teammates are willing to go to war for him (and so would you and I).
MHR - Speaking of Lewis, I'm a big fan. That said, I have talked to some Ravens fans that feel, right now, the Ravens defense may actually be better without him. What are your thoughts on Ray Lewis - the player - as he is right now?
BB - The defense is definitely better with Ray in there, simply just being there. Opposing centers and QBs still fear and look for him, which makes him valuable and he diagnoses plays and calls them out to his teammates as soon as the offense lines up. That's why his "chess matches" with Peyton are a thing of artistic beauty.
MHR - Is it me, or do the Ravens just not utilize Ray Rice correctly? What do you and other Ravens fans think?
BB - When they use Rice right, they usually win, otherwise they usually lose. However, if the Ravens fall behind, the game-plan has to change. Jim Caldwell, our new OC, has used Rice more effectively than Cam Cameron did. That said, his backup is more of a complement than a reserve, so you saw what rookie RB Bernard Pierce is capable of.
MHR - Everyone knows what happened the first time these two teams played. What do the Ravens have to do in order to win this weekend in Denver?
BB - The Ravens need to protect the ball on offense and wear down the Broncos if possible with ball control, so they can dink and doink with Rice early then blast with Pierce later. Not get into a scoring struggle with Manning and they need to rattle him with pressure, although that may be a bit far-fetched. A couple of tipped passes and turnovers could sway the game, much less a Special Teams huge play.
MHR - BONUS: Prediction time.... The winner and score.
BB - I picked the Ravens to win every game they played this year except for the Broncos one. I don't see Baltimore going into Denver and beating the Broncos but I have been wrong before and hope to see the shocker on Saturday. Prior to the first time they played I had already picked Denver to win it all in New Orleans and am sticking with it as I see them as the most complete team on both sides of the ball in the league right now. However, if you think it will be the cakewalk it was over a month ago, you will be very mistaken. Close game for three quarters but Flacco over-thinks and the Ravens lose 27-20.
Many thanks to Bruce for taking the time and here's hoping for a well-played, healthy game for the Broncos and Ravens on Saturday!