The Ravens are set to take on the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 9th (368.7 ypg) Total Defense – 2nd (262.5)
Rush Offense – 7th (132.7) Rush Defense – 3rd (79.7)
Pass Offense – 12th (236.0) Pass Defense – 8th (182.8)
Points Per Game – T17th (22.2) Points Per Game – 1st (1.0)
Sizing Them Up
The undefeated Broncos come to Baltimore surprisingly surging. They have a first-year head coach in the 32-year-old Josh McDaniels, they lost a Pro Bowl quarterback when they swapped Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton in the offseason and their defense was completely overhauled with eight new starters.
But now, Orton has emerged as one of the NFL's most-efficient signal-callers. He has thrown only one interception compared to nine touchdowns. That pick came against the New England Patriots when he threw a Hail Mary before halftime and Pats receiver Randy Moss of the hands team came down with the ball.
Orton has several targets in the passing game, but the leader is Brandon Marshall. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Marshall is built solidly and has the ability to stretch defenses. Veteran Jabar Gaffney and speedy second-year man Eddie Royal each have 18 receptions, while tight end Tony Scheffler is another threat with two touchdown receptions.
On the ground, explosive rookie Knowshown Moreno handles the bulk of the carries behind the Broncos' talented offensive line, while Correll Buckhalter is a capable backup.
Defensively, Denver's 15th-ranked unit from 2008 has become one of the NFL's elite under former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Nolan inserted several players who were backups last year and free agents, and now the Broncos are performing at a high level. The secondary is helmed by eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and seven-timer Brian Dawkins. Linebackers D.J. Williams and Andra Davis, a former Cleveland Brown, are quick sideline-to-sideline and hard hitters.
And then there is NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil, whose 10 sacks paces the league. The short and stocky Dumervil uses his size to get under blockers and get to the quarterback.
What's Up?* *
Zach Eisendrath of DenverBroncos.com writes that it's pretty cold in Denver, an area that received multiple feet of snow this week, so the Broncos had to change their practices.
"In an effort to get in the most effective preparation possible prior to Sunday's Week 8 matchup with the Ravens, the Broncos have moved both their Wednesday and Thursday practices to an indoor facility down the road from their Dove Valley headquarters."
And Lindsay H. Jones from the Denver Post doesn't think the switch has affected the team.
"The Front Range blizzard moved the Broncos' practices indoors for the second consecutive day, but the change in location hasn't taken the edge off the team's practices."
The Post's Jeff Legwold writes that Orton had a rough day but was still able to pull out a win the last time he played the Ravens.
"On Oct. 23, 2005, Orton was 15-of-29 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown in 10-6 win over the Ravens. Reed and Ravens defensive lineman Kelly Gregg were the only players who started for the Ravens in that '05 game that Orton will see across from him Sunday."
Offensive – After a disgruntled offseason and a preseason suspension, Marshall has continued the dominance he's shown over the past two years. With 29 grabs for 332 yards and four touchdowns, Marshall is well on his way to his third consecutive 100-catch season. If he does that, he would be the first person in club history – and third in league history – to top the century mark three straight years.
Defensive – Dumervil somehow slipped to the fourth round of the 2006 draft, but he is now nearly unstoppable. At 5-foot-11, 248 pounds, Dumervil might not seem big, but he can easily get under the opposition and speed around the blocker. He reached 10 sacks after only six games, the second-fastest rate since they became an official statistic in 1982.
WR Eddie Royal
At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Royal is slight and very hard to catch. He is quickly approaching Denver's best reception and yardage totals for a player's first two seasons, as he currently stands at 109 catches for 1,128 yards in his career. In addition, he is dangerous in the return game, where he returned a kickoff (93 yards) and a punt (71 yards) for touchdowns on Oct. 19 against the San Diego Chargers, only the 11th time in NFL history that's been accomplished.
Dumervil is a different type of rusher than the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen, whom Oher did well against in Week 6. If Gaither can return from missing the last two games because of a neck injury, it would be beneficial because Dumervil plays on both sides.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Broncos CB Champ Bailey
Bailey is one of the league's best at studying the game, and he'll perform due diligence on the Ravens young signal-caller. Bailey is also freakishly athletic, even in his 11th year. Flacco has been careful with the football lately, as he's only tossed five interceptions this season. The Ravens like to take advantage of Flacco's strong arm, so expect Bailey to have chances to make plays.
The much-maligned Ravens corners have yet another big test in Marshall. Baltimore's secondary has been shredded before by tall, bulky receivers, and Marshall certainly fits the bill.
McDaniels on what Dawkins has brought to his defense and secondary, on the field and off:"I've never been around a player like Brian. His energy and his spirit are incredible. I think that his leadership, obviously, affects everybody, but I think his energy and his spirit do, too. It's hard to have a bad day at work when you're around Brian Dawkins. He practices as hard, or harder, than everybody else, which makes everybody else practice hard. He's always communicating, always talking about the game, always trying to take care of his body, before practice, after practice, what have you. He's very serious about his craft. And he's just a pro in every sense of the word. We're very fortunate to have him on our team."
Dumervil on the enthusiasm that McDaniels brings to the team:"That's why guys love to play for him. You could tell he loves the game. When you have a coach who is fired up like that, he just kind of brings it out of you. It's been great to be under Coach McDaniels. You learn a lot, and the energy that he brings to the game just forces you to play your best."
This is an excellent Denver Broncos squad. They're undefeated, they've beaten good teams – i.e. the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots – and they are solid on both sides of the ball.
Their offense is clicking in both the running and the passing games. The Orton to Marshall connection is pretty deadly, but Moreno can break a big one at any time.
On the ground, it would be a surprise if the Ravens gave up a third 100-yard rusher, so it's the pass defense that has the biggest test.
The Ravens' secondary has been a concern, and the unit was torched by the likes of the 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson (Chargers), 6-foot-1 Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and 6-foot-4 Sidney Rice (Vikings).
So what do the Ravens have to do to stop the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall? One, they've got to make more plays. Simply put, that just means going up and getting those jump balls Orton is sure to throw. If you can't get to the ball, then hack his arms when he comes down.
Two, they've got to tackle as a team. Foxworth and Washington will hold on, but come on down Ray Lewis and Co. to finish the job. Three, safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry must be vigilant over the top.
The most intimidating player in orange and blue might be Dumervil, however.
How do the Ravens bottle up this pesky rusher? One, Jared Gaither and Michael Oher have to establish first contact, getting their hands into him and locking on.
Two, they've got to block to the whistle. Dumervil makes a living on linemen losing their blocks as a quarterback moves around in the pocket. Three, the Ravens simply might have to utilize extra protection from a fullback or tight end.
The Ravens lay it all on the line every week, but this weekend is critical to keep their playoff hopes within view.