Like many of you I sit this morning with great anticipation and optimistic expectations for what will go down in Denver this evening.
You know that Ray Lewis believes the Ravens will pull it off and that deep within his heart and soul he’s ready to go to war and he’ll try to will his teammates to do whatever it takes for the man playing next to him.
“In any war, you put your back to mine, I put my back to yours, and let’s do what we gotta do.” ~ Ray Lewis
The Ravens are 9-point underdogs and they seem to relish the role. Maybe it’s just part of the DNA of a Ravens’ player to take on the “us against the world” mentality and use it to fuel motivation.
When the thin air of Denver burns their lungs, they will dig a little deeper because someone – make that millions including media hacks like Heath Evans and Donovan McNabb and Ashley Fox, told them they can’t and won’t win at Mile High today.
As we’ve learned in the past, anything is possible and as heavily as the odds are stacked against our guys, I know they will make the Broncos earn it. They can do this, and they can set up an AFC Championship rematch against the New England Patriots.
TEN THINGS I’LL BE LOOKING FOR
START FAST: The Ravens need to punch the Broncos right in the mouth from the opening whistle. Denver hasn’t seen live game speed for two weeks and one could argue they haven’t seen it for quite a while as they finished the regular season with three easy wins against the Ravens (34-17), Browns (34-12) and Chiefs (38-3). The layoff often leads to slow starts and if the Ravens can get the Broncos on their back hoofs from the start like they did in New England 3 years ago, they have a chance to control the game.
THE RUNNING GAME: The Ravens have arguably the best one-two punch in the league with the likes of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Jim Caldwell needs to go to this tandem often even if the early results aren’t there.
CONTROL THE CLOCK: Utilizing 27 and 30 will help to keep Peyton Manning off the field. This needs to be one of those old-fashioned Ravens’ wins. Manage the clock; protect the football; win the battle of field position. It’s a winning formula particularly in bad weather.
MULTIPLE ON FIRST DOWN: While establishing the run is important, play action on first down could be very effective even if the completions are short to intermediate. This is another way to control the clock and keep the fierce Broncos pass rush at bay and it could be a way to use their speed against them.
GET OFF THE FIELD: The Ravens defense struggled on third down against the Colts but they’ll need to be better and look more like the first half defense that took on Manning in Baltimore. In that game the Ravens forced 14 third downs and they were decent in the red zone going 2 for 4. They’ll need more of the same today and trade potential TD’s for field goals. They did that against Manning during the Divisional Playoff back in 2007, limiting the 4-time MVP to 5 field goals.
JACOBY JONES: The thin air in Denver juices the productivity of kickers and punters and the later sometimes can outkick the punt coverage. If that happens, JJ with his rapid acceleration could help flip the field for the Ravens and help the offense play on a shorter field.
CHYKIE BROWN: Brown has been weak on the edge supporting the run. That weakness in the run game could invite a big day from Knowshon Moreno but it could also invite the repeated usage of a 2012 Peyton Manning go-to play – the bubble screen. In the nickel Brown needs to be physical and a solid performance from the former Longhorn is vital today because he will be targeted often by Manning.
AVOID THE HOME RUN: Ed Reed wants to cheat. Can’t cheat! Ed Reed is dying to cheat. CAN’T CHEAT! Reed needs to remain true to his assignments and play that centerfield role the way we know he can. Preventing the big play will go a long way towards a Ravens victory.
MINIMIZE PENALTIES: Bill Vinovich’s crew will be at the controls today and that could be good news for the Ravens. Vinovich has allowed teams to play and doesn’t call a tight game averaging just 9.7 penalties and 70 penalties yards in total per game. Still the Ravens must play a clean game if they want to keep the field tilted in their favor.
MOVE PEYTON MANNING: The national media can sing Peyton Manning’s praises all they want and he deserves the accolades. But one thing they often fail to mention is the drop in velocity of his fastball.
Manning has made a living this year on his quick release and the deep lob that doesn’t really require the zip he once possessed. Dean Pees will need to dial up some new looks to move Manning off his spot. An interior push from Haloti Ngata, Art Jones and Pernell McPhee will help. Without solid footwork and the ability to slide up in the pocket, that weakened arm will show up and his passes will flutter.
The odds are against the Ravens. They have been forced to travel west into the thin air of Mile High on a short week against a team that has an eleven game winning streak.
WILL THE RAVENS SHOCK THE WORLD?
I first thought the Ravens would lose a close game. But now I’m calling the upset. Yes Virginia, the Ravens will shock the world and disappoint the league that undoubtedly is hoping for a Brady v. Manning AFC Championship.
Instead they will get a repeat of last year’s AFCC.
Ravens 23, Broncos 20
It’s gonna be a GREAT DAY!