The Baltimore Ravens are the first playoff contender Denver will face off against this season. A unique offense spearheaded by a former MVP in Lamar Jackson is going to stress every level of the Fangio defense, while Wink Martindale’s pressure scheme will surely test the Broncos pass protection. The contest could be close, so much so that Denver would be wise to press every advantage to come out with the win.
These three matchups look like they should favor the home team.
Von Miller vs. Patrick Mekari
Let’s start with the most obvious mismatch in the game. The list of right tackles who can handle the Broncos’ future Hall of Famer without help is quite short, and Baltimore’s second string right tackle isn’t on it. Mekari is a fine player and does a nice job blocking down on gap concepts, and he’s better than advertised at making a double on his way to the second level when the Ravens go with their zone running game. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mekari finds some success as a run blocker, but Greg Roman is going to need to find ways to try and protect him when he calls a pass.
Standing 6’4 and 308 lbs. Mekari has 31 5/8” long arms, it’s a measurement that would fall below the 10th percentile for offensive tackles and guards in the NFL. With such a short wingspan Miller should be able to really stress the Ravens’ right tackle with his quickness and explosiveness as Mekari will have no margin for error when he throws a punch.
When I spoke with Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz on Cover 2 Broncos this week, he mentioned that the Ravens would surely try and throw a variety of looks and bodies at Miller in an effort to spare Mekari one-on-one reps. This is part for the course with Von, as he routinely sees a tight end stay in to help, chipping backs, and pulling guards. It’d be a surprise if we didn’t also see a few jet motions going towards Miller as a way to force him wide. The Ravens will also mix in a few snaps where Jackson reads him in hopes it causes Miller to hesitate long enough for help to arrive.
Kevin Zeitler vs. the Broncos’ pass rushers
During the offseason the Ravens’ signed Zeitler to a three year deal worth $22.5 million to try and replace Marshall Yanda, who retired after the 2019 campaign. So far the results have been so-so, and it’s hard to ignore how the Lions found success against the 31-year old right guard in their week three matchup.
The play above comes early in the game with the Ravens sliding their protection left while No. 42 Patrick Ricard is tasked with picking up any sort of extra pressure off the right side. This means it’s on Zeitler to protect the A-gap, only he oversteps and the Lions’ nose is able to deke inside before stepping to space and working past him. To his credit, Jackson feels the pressure and delivers the ball to an open receiver before he’s drilled. I suspect it won’t be as easy in Denver.
Detroit goes back at Zeitler later in the contest when they dial up a blitz for No. 99 Julian Okwara on third down. Take note of the width from which both the Lion’s edge rushers start from, as they make it nigh impossible for Jackson to bail out of the pocket going wide. It leads to a short scramble that fails to convert the sticks and Baltimore has to punt.
On Sunday the Broncos will be able to attack Zeitler with a slew of pass rushers. Dre’Mont Jones has quietly played like a man possessed through the first three weeks of the year, while Alexander Johnson is one of the best blitzing backers in the league.
Malik Harrison / Josh Bynes vs. the Broncos’ tight ends
Due to the injuries to Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, the Broncos will enter week four with huge questions as to what they do with their three receiver sets. Shurmur could minimize these concerns about 11 personnel by featuring heavier sets and using Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam in the passing game. While Patrick Queen is a capable player in space, both tight ends look like they’ll create issues for whoever Baltimore’s “other” off ball backer is.
When the Ravens played out of their base 3-4 personnel last week, it was a split between second year linebacker Malik Harrison and 32-year-old Josh Bynes, who recently joined the active roster off Baltimore’s practice squad. The pair combined to play 49% of the defensive snaps as Martindale was all too eager to throw a defensive back on the field to match the Lions’ three receiver sets. By utilizing 12 or even 13 personnel, the Broncos can force Martindale to pick his poison: if Harrison or Bynes are on the field, they’re overmatched against Fant and Okwuegbunam’s athleticism. If a nickel is thrown into the mix, they’re ceding about 50 lbs. to the tight ends.
It’s a winning bet for Denver.
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Gordon outcarried Javonte 18-to-12 against the Jets and added 0.6 yards to his runs on average, a full yard better than Williams. The carry trend is worrisome for Javonte, who edged Gordon 27-24 over the first two games. Don’t expect Gordon to fade away or be traded to a running back-needy team this season. Denver needs him to carry a significant portion of the load while Javonte works on his craft and becomes a more reliable decision-maker.
Vic Fangio, Broncos (+1800): If they beat the Ravens on Sunday, Fangio’s odds will fall.
Right guard Graham Glasgow has been ruled out for this week with a knee injury that kept him out of practice. It’s the second game that Glasgow will miss this season as he sat out Week Two after an irregular heartbeat sent him to the hospital in Week One.
Queen and Harrison have had up-and-down seasons so far in 2021. Harrison saw a season-low 17 snaps against the Detroit Lions in Week 3, while Queen has sometimes been washed out of plays and has missed a few tackles.
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Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young also got in full workouts Friday, but join Jackson in the questionable category. Both players have knee injuries. Linebacker Pernell McPhee (shoulder), safety Chris Clark (hip), safety Geno Stone (thigh), and tackle Alejandro Villanueva (knee) were all limited in practice and listed as questionable. Villanueva will start in place of Ronnie Stanley at left tackle if he can play as Stanley’s been ruled out for the third straight week with an ankle injury. Defensive end Derek Wolfe (hip, back) has also been ruled out while cornerback Anthony Averett (ankle) and safety DeShon Elliott drew questionable tags after sitting out of practice.