By Rich Kurtzman
Ravens – Broncos could be a brutal game next Saturday.
At first thought, it seems like the Broncos should do everything they did in Week 15 against the Ravens when Denver dominated to win 34-17, though, it may not be that easy. In the first game, Denver started sluggishly on offense, kicking one field goal and going three-and-out on their first four drives. Jacob Hester punched in a short touchdown, but the biggest play was Chris Harris picking off Joe Flacco and returning it 98 yards for the touchdown to put the Broncos up 17-0 just before half.
That play demoralized Flacco – who left his head buried in the turf in embarrassment after failing to take Harris down short of the end zone – and Denver went on to hang two more touchdowns on Baltimore to take the 31-3 lead before allowing two late TDs to tight end Dennis Pitta. The Broncos defense held Ray Rice to only 38 yards on the ground, forcing Flacco to throw more than he wanted to, even though Anquan Boldin didn’t have a single catch.
But, part of what helped Denver play so dominantly was Baltimore missing all-star linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs last time, both of which were back this Sunday in the team’s 24-9 win over the Colts.
How the Ravens won their Wildcard round game was by out-physicaling the Colts, hitting them hard and beating them into submission. Lewis led the team with 13 total sacks, Paul Kruger led with 2.5 sacks and they hit Andrew Luck repeatedly, many times while rushing only four or five. Indianapolis did rush for 152 yards on the game, but they didn’t score any touchdowns all day. Plus, Cary Williams picked off a Luck pass in the Ravens defense’s phenomenal play Sunday.
Flacco also played very well, especially when the game came down to crunch time in the second half. He finished going 12-23 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, one to Boldin and one to Pitta. Boldin enjoyed a huge day, with five receptions for 145 yards and the one score, and he’ll be a focal point for the Denver secondary going into next week’s game.
Really, it’s all about which team can play more physically Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. If the Broncos can, as they did in Week 15, they should win with ease. But if Baltimore can enact their physical will, hitting Peyton Manning and controlling the line of scrimmage, it could spell doom for Denver. Right guard Chris Kuper will likely try to play again, but it’s unknown if he’ll be able to go or not. Also, both tackles Orlando Franklin and Ryan Clady were injured during last week’s 38-3 blowout of Cleveland; if any of them were forced to sit it would be a big blow to the Broncos’ chances.
Denver was able to run with Knowshon Moreno going for 115 yards and one score alone – including his amazing hurdle of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed – but with Suggs and Lewis playing, those yards on the ground likely won’t come as easily in the playoff rematch. On the opposite side of the ball, shutting down Ray Rice is of utmost importance, as he could single-handedly win Baltimore the game on offense. He’s not just a remarkable runner, but a great pass-catcher as well, turning a short screen into a 47-yard reception that set up a key Ravens touchdown on Sunday.
In all, when the Broncos and Ravens get together for their rematch Saturday afternoon, fans are in for a physical treat of a football game on the gridiron between these two teams.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday January 12 and the Divisional round playoff tilt can be seen on CBS.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Broncos news, see CBS Sports Denver.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.