1. Find Brian Dawkins: One of the big keys for success in the Ravens’ 30-7 romp over Denver a year ago had to do with their ability to complete timely passes against a tough Denver secondary.
In particular, quarterback Joe Flacco did an outstanding job of recognizing the Cover One look that Denver employs quite often.
Given safety Brian Dawkins’ ability to blitz and stuff the run, Denver will use him as a box player. Once he shifts from the deep half closer to the line of scrimmage, one safety is responsible for shading to either side of the field. It is incumbent on that safety to help in coverage depending on his read and where he believes the ball is going.
Flacco will need to do his best to check to a pass play whenever Dawkins comes up and the single safety, Ronaldo Hill, is high. If Flacco is able to manipulate Hill by looking him off, he should be able to work with single coverage on the other side of the field, hopefully against cornerback Nate Jones instead of Champ Bailey.
2. Play-action on first down: The Broncos come into this game geared to stuff the run.
After last year’s debacle finish defending the run, Denver has reconstructed its front seven to be tougher against opposing ground attacks.
The Ravens are a predominantly first down rushing offense. They run to set up their play-action passing game on later series.
However, in this game, the Ravens should look to use play-action on first down to spring some big passing plays early in the game. If the Broncos play aggressively to take away the Baltimore rushing attack on first down, there will be an opportunity to suck defenders upfield using a fake and to clear the middle passing lanes for Flacco to hit his targets in stride.
3. Wear out the front: Although the Broncos have beefed up their front three, the linebacking corps is still a group that is undersized and can be worn down.
It will be key for the Ravens to consistently pound the ball and not get away from their rushing attack. The Denver linebackers will get tired from taking too many hits. Just as they did a year ago against the Broncos, if the Ravens pound the ball enough times, they should be able to spring a few big runs off of missed tackles.
1. Prepare for the spread: It is quite obvious where the rubber meets the road in this matchup. Denver comes in with the top passing attack in the league; Baltimore has the top pass defense. The Broncos don’t even have the capability of running the ball, as their blocking has been subpar and tailback Knowshon Moreno has been absent from the lineup due to a hamstring injury.
The Broncos will pass the ball from multiple formations, so it will be a task for the Baltimore defenders to keep pace and make the right adjustments.
However, Denver will use more three and four-receiver combinations than anything else, especially to test out the Baltimore front four rush. They may even turn to the empty set from the shotgun, a staple look that head coach Josh McDaniels employs.
The Ravens have to be prepared to defend the Broncos’ spread attack by staying in nickel and dime packages. Moreover, they will need to substitute properly and make sure that enough defensive backs are in the game at a given time to defend the Denver receivers. Look for all of the Baltimore corners and safeties to get plenty of snaps on Sunday.
2. Inside pressure: Pressure will be paramount for the Ravens to disrupt the Denver passing game. And finding a way to push the pocket against a pocket passer like quarterback Kyle Orton will be an instrumental aspect for the defense.
The strength of the Denver offensive line is its tackles, Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris. Conversely, the interior can be had.
The Ravens have to find a way to get in Orton’s face, forcing him to move laterally as opposed to stepping up in the pocket. Baltimore can potentially get a blitz going by twisting and stunting their linebackers and lineman towards the middle.
In addition, the delay blitz should also be used some. Specifically once the Denver line commits to its blocks, a linebacker would move through an unaccounted gap to get to Orton. This is a strategy that the Ravens used perfectly on Jarret Johnson’s opening snap sack of Orton in last year’s contest.
Thus far, Denver still favors the underneath pass and looks for their wideouts to gain yards after the catch. Therefore, much of the yardage they gain comes in smaller chunks. There have also been a lot of missed tackles by other defenses, leading to plenty of YAC.
The Ravens should look to aggressively break on all underneath routes just as they did a year ago. Their mentality should be to run through the Denver receivers once they catch the ball and make sure that they don’t gain yards in space.
If they can limit the short passing game, they will be able to force Orton to throw deep, which is not his strength.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch
Justin Bannan versus Chris Chester: Bannan returns to Baltimore as the starting left defensive end in the Denver 3-4 alignment. This will be an interesting battle because Chester and Bannan practiced against one another and are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Chester has filled in ably for right guard Marshal Yanda, who is now the right tackle in place of Jared Gaither. Chester has been solid in blitz pickup situations, but he still has a tough time pushing the pile and driving defenders off the ball. He will need to find a way to stay on his blocks against Bannan, who is very relentless and does a nice job of maintaining his leverage.