The Denver Broncos are 2-0 heading into tomorrow’s road game against the Baltimore Ravens, but most certainly would like to start the season with a three-game winning streak. The two teams haven’t seen each other since 2015, but the Broncos have been the victors in both games since the infamous Rahim Moore snafu in the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Overall, the Ravens hold a 7-6 lead in the head-to-head series.
But this year’s Ravens team is much different, especially compared to the 2012 version that ended up winning the Super Bowl. After routinely finding their way into postseason activity for most of the past decade, they haven’t been to the playoffs in three seasons. Most importantly, they have lost a lot of quality players that were critical to their past success. While every team is focused on doing what they can to do their best in the present, the Ravens’ recent offseason moves suggests the team appears to be keenly focused on the future.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Ravens took a step toward revamping their offense for the future by selecting quarterback Lamar Jackson, as well as pairing him with two of the best tight ends in the draft in Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Additionally, the team utilized a third-round selection on Orlando Brown Jr. to fortify their offensive line. That’s a unit of players who have incredible potential to produce in the future, but don’t appear in line to have much of an impact this season. So let’s shift focus to who is making an impact for them early on this season.
After dropping 47 points on the Buffalo Bills in the first week of action, the Ravens’ offense simmered a bit against the Cincinnati Bengals in week two with scoring 23 points. Entering Sunday’s contest against the Broncos they rank third in points scored and eighth in yards gained, amassing over 300 yards passing per contest and almost 92 yards on the ground.
The strength of their offense appears to be their revamped receiving corps featuring Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown — all newcomers to their franchise this season. It hasn’t taken long for quarterback Joe Flacco to build chemistry with them, as the trio has reeled in 24 catches for 333 yards and four touchdowns so far. Of the three, Brown is the most dangerous and has been a huge deep threat for their unit boasting a 19.3 yard per catch average. Without question, limiting Brown’s big-play ability downfield will be a major priority for the Broncos’ defense on Sunday.
On the flip-side, the weakness for the Ravens offensively two games into the year has been their questionable ground game, with their backs sporting a paltry 3 yard per carry average. Head Coach John Harbaugh stated earlier this week that jump-starting the running game would be a priority for the team moving forward. So whether it’s Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon or Javorius Allen, look for Baltimore to attempt to establish the running game early in order to setup the play-action passing game that Flacco is efficient at.
Defensively, it’s a mixed bag for the Ravens. After shutting out the Bills to start the year, the Bengals were able to blast them for 34 points. With that in mind, I’m not too sure what to make of their overall rankings of sixth in regard to points allowed and third league-wide in yardage allowed defensively. However, what we do know is this — the Ravens’ defense is banged up and won’t be at one hundred percent against the Broncos.
Most notably, three-time Pro-Bowler and second-team All-Pro linebacker C.J. Mosley is questionable with a knee injury. If he isn’t able to go on Sunday, that should open up opportunities in the middle of the field for the Broncos’ offense. Additionally, starting nose tackle Michael Pierce and SAM linebacker Matt Judon are also listed as questionable. If they are ruled out for the game, that would be a major blow to their rush defense.
With all that in mind, here are my keys to the game.
Keys to the Game
Get the Broncos’ pass rush wreaking havoc again
After an impressive pass rushing assault to start the season against the Seattle Seahawks, the Broncos’ pass rush slowed down in week two against the Oakland Raiders due to their emphasis on the quick passing game. It’d be great to see the defense switch up their coverage and be more aggressive, allowing more time for their arsenal of pass rushers to get after Flacco.
Baltimore’s offensive line has allowed six sacks this season and are coming off a bad performance against the Bengals. With Ronnie Stanley dinged, there is a possibility that veteran James Hurst will replace him on the left side of the line, allowing rookie offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to see get the first start of his career at right tackle. Brown was a very talented prospect in last year’s draft, but plummeted down draft boards due to extremely poor workout numbers. If he starts on Sunday, Von Miller would have the opportunity to have an incredible performance much like he did in week one.
Utilize a precision-based passing attack, dialing up Emmanuel Sanders and the running backs
The Ravens’ pass defense was on fire against the Bills, but that may have been due to the fact that Buffalo doesn’t have a quality signal caller. Their effort last week against Andy Dalton was suspect and paled in comparison to their opening day efforts. After watching several highlights of their game against the Bengals, one of the major weaknesses I noticed was their inability to cover A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd in the middle of the field.
That’s good news for the Broncos, because Emmanuel Sanders has been absolute fire for the offense this season, especially when operating in the slot. In two games, he has had 14 catches for 231 yards and a score. The Ravens’ secondary is depleted due to injuries, so it will be interesting to see who they try to match-up on Sanders. No matter who it is, I expect him to have a huge game.
With the Ravens’ defense struggling to cover the middle, I would also like to see Bill Musgrave utilize Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker in the passing game. If Mosley is indeed ruled out, they don’t have many defenders who would be able to combat the Broncos’ backs in that regard. This looks like another mismatch that the Broncos should dial up on offense.
#Broncos QB Case Keenum when targeting WRs:— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 18, 2018
Emmanuel Sanders: 14/15 (93%) for 231 yards (15.4 YPA)
Demaryius Thomas: 11/21 (52%) for 81 yards (3.8 YPA)
The Broncos’ defense must contain the Ravens’ flock of tight ends
The Ravens have reaped the benefits of a new receiving corps early on, but they have also had great production from their group of tight ends. After undergoing foot surgery a month ago, the aforementioned Hurst won’t be playing against the Broncos. Yet the Ravens’ offense has had plenty of success with their tight ends without him.
The trio of Maxx Williams, Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle have accounted for 17 receptions, 177 yards and a touchdown and have been key targets on third downs. The Broncos defense did a solid job containing Jared Cook last weekend, but can’t let their guard down this week. Baltimore’s three-headed tight end attack is formidable and shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Broncos have struggled on the road in recent memory, especially in early games on the east coast. Hopefully this week they can buck that trend. With the Ravens’ defense likely being without some of its best players, I believe Case Keenum and the Broncos’ offense are set to have a big game in Baltimore — as long as they don’t turn the ball over. My biggest concern is in respect to how the team’s secondary matches up against the myriad of weapons Baltimore has on offense. As mentioned in my keys to the game portion, getting after Flacco will be key. If they can do those two things, they will have a great shot at starting the season 3-0.
Broncos 30, Ravens 20.