The Denver Broncos are bringing the NFL's top passing offense to Baltimore on Sunday, but the Ravens aren't sweating, nor should they be. And it's not because the Ravens have the league's top pass defense, either.
Both groups are overrated, but Denver is more overrated. When you take a deep look at the Broncos offense, you see a group that is soft and a passing game that's vanilla.
One more thing: Denver quarterback Kyle Orton might lead the league in passing with 1,419 yards, the second most in NFL history in the first four games of a season, but he's no Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. He's not even Brett Favre at 40-something.
The Broncos, 2-2 this season, came into Baltimore last season with a lot of hype at 6-0, and the Ravens routed them, 30-7. Denver won only two more games during the rest of the season. Denver has had another year to flourish in second-year coach Josh McDaniels' offense, but the suspicion here is that the result might be similar to 2009's.
As he should, Ravens coach John Harbaugh is giving Denver the ultimate respect.
The Broncos “probably have, obviously, one of the most effective passing games in history through four games,” Harbaugh said. “Kyle has been around. He's got a real good scheme. They do a nice job in terms of mixing things up, protection-wise, route-wise. You get a lot of different stuff, and they have a lot of different guys to go to.
“He recognizes coverage really well. His arm strength looks good. He's been throwing the deep, outside, breaking comebacks really well. So, they're getting the ball downfield. They're getting the ball out quickly — all the things that good passing teams do.”
Denver's major problem is that the Broncos haven't played a team as physical as the Ravens, and when you're as one-dimensional as Denver, that means trouble. Big trouble.
Denver runs a West Coast offense, one predicated on short passes that are almost like running plays. The Broncos like to use a lot of play-action, but once the Ravens shut down Denver's running game, ranked last in the league, play-action becomes meaningless.
It's not as if Denver's passing game is complicated. They like to run a lot of screens, slants, hitches and other quick passes to receivers Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas, with Brandon Lloyd as the homerun hitter.
It's a pea-shooter offense.
A major key for the Ravens on Sunday will be making the tackle immediately after the catch. If they don't, it will be a long afternoon.
“Honestly, I just think it's about us coming out, playing, doing what we do,” Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis said.
“If you do watch the film of what's going on and you do watch [Orton], he's throwing the ball extremely well. But at the same time, there are a lot of missed tackles, a lot of missed tackles.
“The run after the catch is huge if you really focus on film enough. Eddie Royal and those guys — the young boy out of Georgia Tech [Thomas] — they're making some people miss, and you don't see the pursuit as well as you would want it to be.
“So, the bottom line, our emphasis this week was: They may catch some balls, but the bottom line is you have to hit them and stop them where they catch it at, and then hopefully that limits the run after the catch and things like that.”
Another key will be getting to Orton. The Broncos use a lot of quick, three-step drop-backs. Orton doesn't have great mobility, so the Ravens figure that making him move his feet or getting a quick hand in his face is almost as effective as a sack.
A year ago, the Ravens pressured Orton and smacked him around early, and he wasn't the same for the entire game. Denver likes to use a lot of maximum protection, keeping in seven to eight players to pass-block, but this Broncos offensive line has struggled with technique and injury.
The Ravens look forward to the challenge. Orton's passing total after four games trails only the 1,557 yards put up by the St. Louis Rams' Kurt Warner in 2000, and Orton has thrown for more than 300yards in each of his past three games.
He might hit the 300-yard mark in Baltimore, but it will be more out of desperation than sticking with the game plan.
“Eddie Royal, Brandon Lloyd, [Jabar] Gaffney — these guys are some of the best,” Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “Their quarterback — he's playing at his best. The No. 1 pass offense — they're at the top. So, we have to bring our ‘A' game this week on this field right here.
“We've got to be physical this week in the back end. We just have to get prepared for these guys. They're quick, they're fast, they have the whole package, and we just have to be prepared.”
That's true, but let's not go overboard. These are the Broncos. It's a new coach, but the same old act.