The common discourse among national media leading up to this week's divisional-round matchup between the Ravens and Broncos is that the Broncos have the fast track to victory.
After all, the Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 in Baltimore less than a month ago.
But the Ravens will put a very different team on the field this Saturday when they travel to Denver.
In that first matchup, the Ravens were missing five total starters – three on defense and two on offense – and all five of them will be back on the field this week.
"We're more full-strength now than we've ever been all year, so it's the right time to be healthy," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm hoping those guys will have a big impact."
Defensively, the Ravens were without linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, and safety Bernard Pollard, and the offense was missing Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson.
Pollard (98 tackles) and Ellerbe (89) were the Ravens' two leading tacklers this season, and Lewis finished sixth in tackles (57) despite missing 10 games with a torn triceps. Getting those pieces back makes a difference, and the Ravens showed that Sunday against the Colts when the defense didn't allow a touchdown.
"When you go into a gun fight, you're going to want all your ammo. So we definitely had everybody we needed," Ellerbe said. "It felt good to have everybody in there."
The Ravens defense has been banged up all season, and last week was the first time all year that Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata all took the field together.
"It's good to get some pieces back, but I think for the most part we just have to go play ball," Pollard said. "We can't get caught up in who was in and who was out, we just have to go play."
Getting Lewis back on the field has made a significant impact on the team from an emotional standpoint, as the Ravens are playing inspired football for the legendary linebacker's final postseason run.
But the return of Lewis, Ellerbe and Pollard also helps from a schematic perspective. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said that he's looking at what those additions allow him to do as he develops the game plan this week.
"We now take some guys that we've added back into the equation and say, 'OK, can we now go back and do some of these things well? What do we want to take that was good from the last game? Can we do that?'" he said. "It's kind of the same thing as just evaluating the talent that we have, but then also put that up against what they do and say, 'Is this a good fit?'"
Offensively, the Ravens struggled without Yanda and Dickson on the field. Both of those players are critical pieces of the running game and having them in the lineup has made the difference in recent wins over the Giants and the Colts, in which the Ravens averaged 198 rushing yards.
"There were a few guys out, so you could definitely say that we're different, even with just one or two of those guys back," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "I'm not saying that's why we lost because they beat us pretty good."
Harbaugh also emphasized that he wasn't using the injuries as an excuse for the result of the first meeting and that he's not making a big deal about it to the team. But he also acknowledged that it's good to have the team healthy again.
"It has to be a positive," he said.
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