5 Ravens Changes From Last Denver Game


The Broncos put a licking on the Ravens just three weeks ago.

They left M&T Bank Stadium with a 34-17 win, and at one point in the second half led by 28 points.

But this isn't the same Baltimore team that took the field on Dec. 16.

The Ravens feel they're better equipped this time around, and they hope that means a different result.

"Yes, we believe we can compete better against them," Head Coach John Harbaugh said on Monday.

"Give them credit, they came in here and played a whale of a football game. They kept the pressure on us – all three phases. In the end, they were able to extend the lead. That's something that we are just going to have to do a better job of dealing with."

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said he was hoping to draw Denver in the divisional round because of the loss earlier this season. A reporter asked him why he thinks the game will be different this time around.

"We'll make it different," Boldin succinctly said.

Here's how the Ravens have changed since that meeting:

They're Healthier

The Ravens were missing three defensive starters (linebacker Ray Lewis, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Bernard Pollard) and their best offensive lineman (guard Marshal Yanda) last time. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was playing his first game back from his biceps injury.

"We're going down there with all of our weapons and all of our tools," safety Ed Reed said. "And we're coming to bang."

Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens are more full strength now than ever before this year. "So it's the right time to be healthy, and I'm hoping those guys will have a big impact," he said.

The Ray Lewis Effect

Lewis was eligible to play against the Denver Broncos last time, but he and the Ravens chose to give his injured triceps more time to heal. Lewis said that he doesn't regret the decision, but that he's excited to get a shot at the Broncos himself.

His return sent a charge through the team on Sunday. The Ravens have a new motivation to try to bring their general another Super Bowl trophy, and players said it made a tangible difference on the field.

"We saw them earlier in the year, but now we get them again with all of our guys back," Lewis said. "We are really looking forward to it."

Jim Caldwell Is More Experienced

Caldwell was in his first game as an offensive coordinator and NFL play caller in the last meeting. The Ravens got off to an ice cold start with five straight three-and-outs, and their best drive of the first half ended with an interception returned for a touchdown.

But since then, Caldwell and the first-string Ravens offense have hummed. Baltimore posted 533 yards of offense against the New York Giants in Week 16, then a franchise postseason record 441 yards Sunday against Indianapolis. Caldwell has added some new wrinkles to the Ravens offense, picked up the pace and moved quarterback Joe Flacco in and out of the pocket more.

"[Caldwell's] probably a little bit more comfortable throughout the week now and kind of a little bit more settled in. That week was a little hectic," Flacco said. "We just didn't feel like we played up to par the last time we played them."

Two-Headed Running Attack

The Ravens have progressively worked rookie Bernard Pierce more into the rotation at running back. Pierce and starter Ray Rice essentially rotated series against Indianapolis.

Pierce has made the most of increased reps. He rushed just five times for 20 yards against Denver. The next week he rushed 14 times for 123 yards versus the Giants, then rumbled 13 times for 103 yards against the Colts.

Having a more dangerous two-pronged attack could help the Ravens tremendously, especially considering Denver's high altitude that tends to wear down visiting players. "Those two guys are going to take care of each other, and that's something that we've been building on," Harbaugh said.

Offensive Line Change

Flacco was sacked three times and hit nine times by the Broncos in their first meeting. That pressure was a big reason for the offense's difficulties.

But Baltimore has a shaken-up offensive line now due to left guard Jah Reid's toe injury. The Ravens inserted Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, moved Michael Oher to right tackle and shifted rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard. The group played well, according to Harbaugh, and surrendered just one sack and two quarterback hits.

Still, center Matt Birk knows the Broncos will be tough to stop with the likes of pass rushers Von Miller (18.5 sacks), Elvis Dumervil (11 sacks), Derek Wolfe (6 sacks) and Wesley Woodyard (5.5 sacks). "They are the best team in football," Birk said. "It's a great challenge for us.

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