During their Week 15 matchup against the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens offense played so poorly that Joe Flacco & Co. were booed off their own field at M&T Bank Stadium prior to halftime. The loss was embarrassing and the 34-17 score wasn’t indicative at just how bad the game actually was.
The Pro Bowl backfield of the Ravens didn’t live up their billing, as fullback Vonta Leach only played 11 snaps and Ray Rice was held to 41 total all-purpose yards. The entire second half, the Ravens played from the shotgun in an offensive performance that was far from pretty.
Even though the loss was embarrassing at home, there was a positive to come out of it – the cockiness from columnists in Denver, who have essentially started to plan for the Broncos to host the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. Most of the national “experts” are backing up those sentiments.
However, lost in all the kissing of Peyton Mannings derrière, many have failed to realize how different of a team the Ravens are compared to a month ago, which makes rolling into Sports Authority Field at Mile High and punching the Broncos straight in their horse teeth a realistic possibility – which will silence their cocky fan base.
Sure, it’s a realistic possibility that Saturday’s game could end the Ravens’ season, but there are plenty of things that the so called “experts” are overlooking:
1. Marshal Yanda
The Pro Bowl right guard sat out the Week 15 matchup with an ankle injury, which allowed the Broncos defensive line to have a field day with three sacks and nine quarterback hits. Veteran Bobbie Williams filled in for Yanda and has shown that at this point of his career, he’s largely ineffective.
Yanda’s insertion back into the offensive line has paid major dividends as the Ravens have been able to limit the pass rushes of teams like the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts – two of the best in the NFL – to just one sack and four quarterback hits in those two games combined.
2. “New” Offensive Line
A toe injury to left guard Jah Reed was the “get out of jail free” card for Bryant McKinnie who has been in John Harbaugh’s dog house so long that the Ravens started to charge him rent (a $1 million pay cut prior to the start of the season).
McKinnie’s addition and subsequent shifting of personnel along the line has given the Ravens 4/5 of their starting offensive line from last season and upgraded the team in three positions.
It’s simple: McKinnie is a better left tackle than Michael Oher; Oher is a better right tackle than Kelechi Osemele; Osemele is a better left guard than Reid.
Flacco has already admitted he’s comfortable playing behind this line and hinted at practice on Wednesday that the configuration the Ravens used against the Colts will be the same they use in Denver. With Reid being placed on IR this morning, it seems that the Ravens have their “new” o-line set to default.
3. Jim Caldwell’s Mobile Pocket
Week 15 was Caldwell’s first week at the helm of the Ravens offense. After firing Cam Cameron six days prior to the Ravens last game against the Broncos, Caldwell had limited time to prepare and adapt himself to calling the plays for the Ravens offense.
Now that Caldwell has had over a month to familiarize himself, he’s starting to show his impact and adjustments to former Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron’s scheme.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said that installing a more mobile pocket was something Caldwell has been working on with the offense and it clearly shows. Flacco is moving all over the field, allowing his receivers more time to create separation and his comfort level seems to be the highest it has all season.
Simply put, when the Ravens and Broncos played during Week 15, Caldwell essentially was taking the offense for a test drive to get the feel of things. The new car smell may still linger around the Ravens offense but Caldwell is putting his presets into the radio and familiarizing himself more each day.
4. Healthy Linebackers
Just because the Broncos put 34 points on the scoreboard on the Ravens defense doesn’t mean that it was indicative of poor play.
Over the final four weeks of the regular season, the Ravens defense was fourth-best in the NFL. When the two teams first met this season, the defense was battered and bruised. Not that Ray Lewis has had a significant impact on the unit this season, but he was out with an injury along with fellow linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) and Jameel McClain (neck).
The Ravens played extremely well with Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan, and Brendon Ayanbadejo filling in at linebacker but clearly missed Ellerbe’s play. He’s going to be the biggest addition to a unit that fared very well when the game was still in hand.
Side Note: The Ravens were also without starting safety Bernard Pollard (ribs/back) in Week 15.
5. Time of Possession
Time of possession heavily favored the Broncos during Week 15 as they held the ball for 38:34. While the Ravens shot themselves in the foot prior to halftime as Flacco was intercepted for a touchdown by Brocnos cornerback Chris Harris, they found themselves playing mostly from behind.
All creativity from the Ravens playbook disappeared as they went to the shotgun formation and threw most of the game, due to the large deficit.
For the Ravens to win the time of possession battle and keep Peyton Manning off of the field, they will have to continually run the ball and eat up the clock.
Rice has something to prove after fumbling twice against the Colts and his backup Bernard Pierce has been running like a man possessed, averaging 6.4 YPC (49 carries/ 315 yards) since their loss to the Broncos.
Given the fact that the high temperature at kickoff will be 14 degrees, the weather in Denver suggests that running the ball should be the key to a victory. While the Broncos are starting their backup runner Knowshon Moreno, the Ravens clearly have a backfield advantage with Leach clearing the way for Rice and Pierce.
Don’t count out Moreno though, he torched the Ravens’ backup defense with 115 yards and a touchdown.
There you have it. Five good reasons why the Ravens should fare much better against the Broncos this time around.
Do you have any to add?