Jamison Hensley's scouting report: Ravens vs. Broncos

October 09, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Ravens run offense vs. Broncos run defense: Ray Rice is expected to return to the starting lineup after being limited last Sunday with a bruised right knee. That could provide a boost to a Ravens running attack that is averaging 3 yards per carry (second-worst in the NFL). Rice, whose carries have decreased every week since the season opener, is due for a breakout game. Denver is tied for 12th in the NFL in run defense after containing Tennessee's Chris Johnson (53 yards on 19 carries). But Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, whose running style is similar to Rice's, had success against the Broncos in Week 1, gaining 98 yards on 23 carries.

Edge: EVEN

Ravens pass offense vs. Broncos pass defense: Joe Flacco has been on a tear the past two games, throwing for 518 yards, four touchdowns and one interception (a quarterback rating of 103.6). Look for the Ravens to take shots deep against Denver, which has allowed eight touchdowns through the air. Flacco should have time to go downfield because the Broncos, who are without their top pass rusher (Elvis Dumervil), have recorded only four sacks in four games. The Ravens respect Denver cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman. If Goodman (questionable, quadriceps) is sidelined for a third straight game, the Ravens will attack rookie cornerback Perrish Cox, who was picked apart two weeks ago by Indianapolis' Peyton Manning.

Edge: RAVENS

Broncos run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Broncos, who have the NFL's worst running game, will be without starting running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring). They average 55 yards on the ground, which is nearly 14 yards per game fewer than any other team in the league. The lack of consistency from Moreno (2.8 yards per carry), Correll Buckhalter (1.8) and Laurence Maroney (1.3) has forced Denver to abandon the running game. The Ravens defense, which was a major concern a week ago, limited Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall to 79 yards on 25 carries (a 3.2-yard average). Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who made 11 tackles against the Steelers, is becoming one of the most dominant defensive players in the league.

Edge: RAVENS

Broncos pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: This is a showdown between two No. 1 units in the NFL. But both are overrated at this point in the season. The Ravens have allowed a league-best 119 yards through the air. That success has come against the likes of Mark Sanchez, Seneca Wallace and Charlie Batch. The Broncos have produced an NFL-best 339.5 yards passing per game, but they've had to throw the ball because they can't run it. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton has passed for the second-most yards (1,419) in NFL history through four games. Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb seems primed to take a starting role. Free safety Tom Zbikowski is questionable with a thigh injury. The Ravens' top pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, will line up against Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady.

Edge: EVEN

Special teams: The Broncos have dangerous returners (Eddie Royal on punts and Demaryius Thomas on kickoffs) and struggling coverage teams (both rank 29th in the NFL). The Ravens have been disappointed in their returners and could switch to Josh Wilson (averaged 25.4 yards on kickoffs as a rookie in 2008) on kickoffs. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff (seven touchbacks, 4-for-6 on field goals) and Denver's Matt Prater (nine touchbacks, 8-for-8 on field goals) both have strong legs. Ravens punter Sam Koch is netting 36.9 yards, which is nearly the same for the Broncos' Britton Colquitt (36.7).

EDGE: BRONCOS

Intangibles: Since 2005, the Ravens are 1-3 following wins over Pittsburgh. But there's a stronger trend working in the Ravens' favor. They have owned the Broncos in Baltimore, winning all four meetings by an average of 18 points. Each victory has been by a double-digit margin. Flacco has been just as dominating against the entire AFC West, going 5-0 against that division with a 94.1 quarterback rating. Denver has lost five of its past seven road games. The Broncos have totaled 239 penalty yards, the 10th-most in the NFL this season.

Edge: RAVENS

Prediction: There are certain traditions at M&T Bank Stadium: Eating crab cakes, watching Ray Lewis' pre-game dance and beating the Broncos. But this one will be closer than what many expect.

RAVENS, 26-20

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