Pete S., the UPS driver who has serviced my day job account for almost ten years now, is an extremely knowledgeable football fan. And Pete loves his Ravens.
So when Pete tells you winning the game coming up Sunday, Dec. 16 between the Ravens (9-4) and the Denver Broncos (10-3) is more important than winning next week's game over the New York Giants, he is referring to the seeding for the AFC playoffs.
The arrival of the red-hot Broncos and Peyton Manning to Baltimore is a tough challenge, but even moreso due to the Ravens' injury list on the defensive side of the ball. It's not a question of who's injured, it's more like "who's not hurt ?" for the Ravens D...
CBSSports.com's Jason Butts summed up the Ravens injury dilemma nicely:
'Even the Ravens realize they will need to outscore the Broncos given that the defense is dealing with a plethora of injuries. Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said it's on the offense this week to keep pace with Broncos QB Peyton Manning. "We are more concerned about our end of it, trying to make certain of the things we're supposed to do and put some points on the board," Caldwell said. The Ravens offense performed well in the first half against Washington, though a second half collapse ultimately sealed its fate. Baltimore's best chance to win Sunday will come from the offensive side of the ball." '
There will be a lot of eyes Joe Flacco now that he's no longer under the guidance of former OC Cam Cameron, who was fired this past Monday. There's a lot of optimism in the locker room from the offensive players that Flacco can now show what he is truly capable of as an NFL quarterback. Of course, that remains to be seen. Only time will tell if Flacco's better off with the coaching change, but that begins this week against Denver.
Key matchups: Broncos OLBs Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard vs. Ravens OTs Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens' line has struggled against some of the better pass rushers in the NFL this season, and this week might be the toughest test yet. Miller has 16 sacks, which ranks third best in the league. Woodyard has four sacks of his own and has totaled 100 tackles. Oher and Osemele will need big games to help Baltimore's offense succeed on Sunday. ... Ravens CBs Cary Williams and Corey Graham vs. Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Manning is deadly and these two receivers are a huge reason why. Thomas has 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns and Decker has accounted for 790 yards and eight touchdowns. Williams has been playing at a high level in recent weeks but will face his toughest challenge since Week 3 against New England.
Inside stuff: In the past three games, the Ravens reverted back to a traditional style of offense, huddling in between plays with the no-huddle popping up here and there. Look for that to change this week with Caldwell taking over as offensive coordinator. Caldwell will want to play fast and keep Denver in its base defense. If the Ravens can pick up some early first downs and establish a rhythm, they'll have a chance to compete in a shootout against the Broncos.
Stats you should know: Despite their recent offensive woes, the Ravens have had a dominant offense at home throughout the season. Even with the home game against Pittsburgh in Week 12 (288 total yards), the Ravens are averaging 34 points and 295.8 passing yards per game at M&T Bank Stadium. In addition, the Ravens have 10 rushing touchdowns and have committed only five turnovers at home.
Injury report: LB Jameel McClain (neck) will not play against Denver. LB Ray Lewis (triceps) needs to be activated to the 53-man roster from the injured reserve-designated to return list before he's eligible to play. OLB Terrell Suggs (biceps) was able to practice more this week, which gives him a better shot to play against Denver. S Bernard Pollard (chest) and RG Marshal Yanda (ankle) did not practice this week and are unlikely to play on Sunday. TE Ed Dickson (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle), FB Vonta Leach (ankle) and DE Pernell McPhee (groin) were able to practice some this week, with all having a 50/50 chance to play Sunday. The Ravens also have a good shot at getting CB Jimmy Smith (sports hernia) on the field as he's been a full participant in practice.
I think if the Ravens can manage to play smart and penalty-free on offense, and they go to no-huddle early in the game, we may see Joe "Big Game" Flacco at his best. That's the guy we saw in the AFC Championship game last January. And that's the cushion the Ravens will need with Peyton Manning in the house.