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TALE OF THE TAPE

Week 15: Denver Broncos At Baltimore Ravens

Broncos
Ravens
Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos signals against the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots
Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos signals against the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Quarterback
Winner The Broncos are playing sensational football right now and Peyton Manning is the biggest reason why this team is doing so well. He is a legitimate MVP and comeback player of the year candidate in a season that must be completely gratifying for him. Manning is perhaps the sharpest signal-caller in the game today and one of the best in the league’s history.
The Ravens had hoped for an MVP-type year for Joe Flacco. While he is clearly a good quarterback, he is not an elite signal caller. That has frustrated head coach John Harbaugh, who fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron over a philosophical disagreement. Flacco has a strong arm, he can see over the top of the defense and get rid of the ball quickly.
Offense
Winner The injury to Willis McGahee was not a good thing for the Denver offense, but backup Knowshon Moreno has been solid as he fills in for him. Moreno runs with a burst and can push the pile. Manning has developed an excellent rapport with wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and that has allowed the Broncos to put opposing defenses on their heels.
Why would Harbaugh fire his offensive coordinator with three games to go in the regular season? Probably because Harbaugh wants to see Ray Rice get the ball even more than he does. Rice has just under 1,000 yards, but he could easily be at the 1,300-yard mark at this point in the season. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are a solid receiving duo.
Defense
Winner The Broncos are fast, athletic and aggressive on defense. They come up with key stops nearly every game and that’s why they have been able to reel off nine straight wins. The key to their defense is outside linebacker Von Miller, who has a team-high 16.0 sacks and is making a run at the defensive MVP award. Champ Bailey is still one of the best cover corners in the league.
The Ravens are no longer the defensive juggernaut they have been in the past. They could not hold the Redskins in check in the fourth quarter even though Washington was forced to play backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. Strong safety Bernard Pollard has a team-high 98 tackles and is a big hitter. Free safety Ed Reed has four picks, including one returned for a touchdown.
Special Teams
The Broncos have gotten the better of the special teams battle on both punt and kickoff returns. Speedy Trindon Holliday has returned one of each for a touchdown. Placekicker Matt Prater has made 21-of-26 field goal attempts this season.
Winner The Ravens excel at both punt and kickoff coverage. Jacoby Jones is one of the most explosive returners in the league. He has returned two kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown. Placekicker Justin Tucker has made 24-of-26 FG attempts.

The Winner Is

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos signals against the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Winner Broncos
3 out of 4

Harbaugh has taken a big gamble by firing Cameron this late in the season. Harbaugh has a good feel for his team and the move will likely work, but there is some trepidation. The Ravens’ inefficiency on the defensive side of the ball is likely to cost them in this game.

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