Peyton Manning and the Broncos cruised to a 34-17 victory over the Ravens last time around. Can they do it again? (AP Photo)
The Denver Broncos will host the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2012 playoffs on Saturday, January 12, 2013, and we’re breaking down all angles. Today: five impact players from the two teams.
5. Ravens G Marshal Yanda
Everyone remembers that Ray Lewis was unable to go the last time these two teams faced each other, but Baltimore’s 315-lbs. Pro Bowl offensive lineman was also absent, and the results may have been more quantitative. Consider the running attack: in Baltimore’s last three games with Yanda (one postseason, two regular season), running back Ray Rice has averaged 137 yards from scrimmage. Without Yanda, against the Broncos, he was held to 41. Consider the passing game: in the last three games with Yanda, quarterback Joe Flacco has passer ratings of 125.6, 114.2, and 121.4. Without Yanda against the Broncos? Flacco had a passer rating of 76.5.
How much of that difference was determined by a top-ranked Broncos defensive unit and Yanda’s absence will be decided in Denver on Saturday.
4. Broncos CB Chris Harris
Against the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver Anquan Boldin exploded for five catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. Outside of the Broncos game in Week 15 and the meaningless Bengals game in Week 17, he is on a three-game streak of averaging over 100 receiving yards. Yet, against the Broncos, Boldin was completely shut down, and Broncos cornerback Chris Harris was the reason why. Bolding was targeted six times in Week 15, most often against Harris, and he had zero catches for zero yards. And who can forget Chris Harris taking a Joe Flacco interception 98 yards to the house?
This rematch will be thrilling to watch. We don’t expect Harris to completely shut down Boldin again, but keeping the veteran receiver to under 50 yards receiving will be considered a win for the sophomore Broncos corner.
3. Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno
Knowshon Moreno hurdles Ed Reed in Baltimore in a 34-17 Broncos win. (Ben Hayes/Denver Broncos)
Hey, Ed Reed! Remember this? You were the guest of honor at the Knowshon Moreno Coming Out Party.
While Willis McGahee may practice soon, he won’t be eligible to return until the AFC Championship Game (should the Broncos advance), so it’s the Knowshon Moreno Show again vs. Baltimore. Last time, Moreno had 21 carried for 115 yards and a whopping 5.5 average — his best career game. Even with Ray Lewis returning, the Ravens still yielded over 150 rushing yards to the Indianapolis Colts last week.
The Broncos will need — and expect — a repeat performance from Knowshon Moreno to keep the Ravens offense desperate and pass-happy. That will feed Baltimore right into Denver’s fierce pass rush.
2. Ravens LB Ray Lewis
We argued a few paragraphs ago that right guard Marshal Yanda’s absence in Week 15 was more quantitative than Ray Lewis’. That was the case in the regular season; that isn’t the case in the postseason. And that isn’t the case when the face of the franchise announces his retirement will take place at the end of this playoff run.
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis (52) celebrates after a play during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Ray Lewis is the biggest X-factor of this game. He had a more-than-respectable 13 tackles in his return against the Colts last week, but his biggest impact isn’t a direct one, or a measurable one. It’s the immeasureable effect that comes with 52 other teammates aligning themselves to a common goal. It’s a powerful influence for everyone on the Ravens team — just ask the Broncos’ own Super Bowl 1997 veterans who played for John Elway.
1. Broncos QB Peyton Manning
“The Raven Killer.” Manning and the Broncos are on an 11-game winning streak, but Manning himself has won nine straight against the Ravens. You would expect one of the NFL’s most wizened veteran quarterbacks and one of its most notorious ballhawks — Ed Reed — would have many a memorable matchup in the AFC, but Manning has consistently gotten the better of the Baltimore safety and teammates. Which is why Manning tops this list, with ease.
Just consider: Manning’s nine-game winning streak against the Ravens should have been virtually offset by the Broncos’ own struggles against the Ravens. Yet, in Week 15, the Broncos cruised to a 34-17 victory, and the game wasn’t even that close.
Manning is the reason the Broncos are nine-point favorites against this notorious defense, and cover or not, if they win at all, it will be because of Peyton Manning.