BALTIMORE — The 1-1 Baltimore Ravens will welcome the 2-0 Denver Broncos to M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday looking to bounce back from a disappointing 34-23 setback last Thursday night in Cincinnati.
Some of the same problems we’ve seen from the Ravens in recent seasons plagued the team again on Thursday. An offense sputtering out of the gate coupled with a C.J. Mosley-less defense found the Ravens behind the eight ball faced with a 21-0 deficit less than two minutes into the second quarter.
The defense and offense both woke up to some extent to lead a furious charge back into the contest. The Ravens sliced the Bengals’ lead to five with roughly nine and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. After a Tavon Young holding penalty extended the Bengals next drive which led to a field goal, quarterback Joe Flacco fell victim to a sack fumble on the next possession which ultimately put the game away.
A road loss on Thursday night football isn’t the end of the world, but it was still against a division opponent who’s had the Ravens’ number in recent seasons. Now, the Ravens find themselves in a must-win situation at home against the Broncos before facing the Steelers, Browns, and Titans all on the road. As for Denver, the Broncos share the lead in the AFC West with the also undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos began the season with two impressive victories at home over the Seahawks and Raiders. Here’s what to watch for during Sunday’s contest.
Alex Collins is praying for more carries this week against the Broncos. Image Credit: ESPN
1) Can the Ravens commit to the running game?
Much of the story for the past few seasons surrounding the Ravens offense has been the team’s inability/unwillingness to commit to the running game. Starting tailback Alex Collins has just 16 carries through two weeks which is a number that Ravens fans want to see go up significantly.
Flacco provides the greatest value when he is able to run play action effectively and hit deep passes to his new look receiver corps. It is impossible to establish the play action passing game when you prove to offer no threat of running the football. 10 out of 13 Ravens drives last week featured first down passes. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to change that this week.
Given the Ravens’ offensive line struggles, one of the best ways to get an offensive line feeling confident about themselves is to allow them to run block. The Broncos are sixth against the run through two weeks this season but have faced Seattle and Oakland to this point; neither team offers the run threat that the Ravens can present in Collins.
If the Ravens don’t commit to the running game this week against the Broncos, it could be a long day for the offense.
Ronnie Stanley will need to come up with a gutsy performance this Sunday. Image Credit: Getty Images
2) How in the world do the Ravens block Von Miller and Bradley Chubb?
The Ravens’ offensive line are coming off of a night in which they allowed four sacks and several additional hurries against the Bengals. The Bengals’ pass rush disrupted Flacco and the offense all night making it difficult for them to find consistent rhythmn. Flacco moved well in the pocket to make the most of a rough night from his guys up front, but if the line struggles Sunday, the problem may be too great to overcome once again.
Von Miller is one of the most disruptive forces in the NFL. He consistently presents the ability to absolutely wreck your offensive game plan. He is nearly impossible to single team and that challenge gets even greater when you consider that Ravens starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley was limited in practice yesterday with an arm injury.
A one-arm Stanley figures to present a greater challenge for Miller than a two armed James Hurst, who could arguably be the worst left tackle on the planet. Miller has four sacks on the season and is looking to put together his fifth straight 10+ sack season.
Another issue for the Ravens is that Miller now has a formidable pass-rushing sidekick in 2018 fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb. While the North Carolina State product doesn’t boast the experience or consistency of Miller, he did record 10 sacks in each of his last two seasons in Raleigh. Chubb has a half-sack on the season and the Ravens will hope his slow start carries over into Sunday.
The Ravens will undoubtedly have to chip with tight ends on Miller and may have to leave extra backs in to help out as well. This is a huge test for the Ravens’ offensive line and we will see if they can answer the call this Sunday.
Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce need to help shut down the Denver rushing game in the absence of C.J. Mosley. Image Credit: WJLA
3) Can the Ravens defense make the Broncos one-dimensional?
The Ravens gave up over 100 yards on the ground last week to Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard and company. With Mosley out of the game early, the Bengals churned out yardage to the tune of four yards per-carry. Mosley doesn’t project to play this week which will put more pressure on Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce.
Enter Phillip Lindsay and the Broncos second ranked rushing offense. Lindsay, a rookie out of the University of Colorado, is currently third in the NFL with 178 rushing yards to-date. The Broncos also have 2018 third-round pick and projected starter Royce Freeman who put up 99 yards and a touchdown in two games despite Lindsay taking a majority of the snaps.
It is imperative for the Ravens’ defense to shut down the Broncos running game and make Case Keenum and the Denver offense one-dimensional. Keenum has three touchdowns and four interceptions to-date on the season and although he boasts a 2-1 record against the Ravens lifetime, his numbers are poor.
Prior to last season’s breakout year and subsequent free agency score, Keenum had just 27 passing touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 28 career appearances. He is a gunslinger who is prone to turning the ball over and the if the Ravens make him beat them, it bodes well for a Baltimore victory this Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 23 Broncos 17
I think the Ravens look more like the team that dismantled the Bills than the one that struggled against the Bengals. This is a bigger game for the Ravens than it is for the Broncos with the Ravens heading to Pittsburgh next week. They don’t want to be staring a 1-3 first quarter of the year in the face. They won’t be.
Image Credit: The Sports Daily