The Baltimore Ravens are in a spot that they have not found themselves in since 2009, losers of two consecutive games, and they will have their hands full this week as they play host to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. With a win, Baltimore will clinch a playoff spot, while the Broncos have already clinched the AFC West.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this matchup is that the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator Cam Cameron early this week and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell will be taking over for the remainder of the season. Obviously, the entire offense is not going to change with it being so late in the season, but expect a few new wrinkles and more no huddle, as Caldwell is a big supporter in an up tempo style of offense. Although the Ravens lost their last home game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore has still won 15 of their last 16 regular season home games and have proven M&T Bank Stadium is the toughest place for a visiting team to come out with a victory. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense come into this game as the second best (New England) scoring offense at home averaging 34 points per game, and fifth in total offensive yards per game at home averaging 399.
Baltimore will need to do something special to put up those kind of numbers on Sunday however, as Denver comes in ranked fourth in total defense and only allows an average of 20.1 points per game on the road. The real issue for the Ravens on the offensive side of the football will be protection of Flacco. The Broncos come in ranked second in the NFL averaging three sacks a game, and an even higher 3.4 sacks per game on the road, and we have all seen that the Ravens offensive line is struggling this season, and may be without starting right guard Marshal Yanda to boot. Baltimore's protection of Flacco will be a huge factor in this game.
On the flip side of things, a depleted Baltimore Ravens defense, stung with the injury bug, will have to find a way to slow down Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense who seem to look better each and every game. Baltimore's defense is ranked 24th in total defense in the NFL allowing 375.9 total yards per game, but those numbers get even worse as the Ravens defense ranks 29th in total defense at home allowing 390.7 total yards per game at M&T. That does not bode well for Baltimore as the Broncos offense ranks fourth in total offense and puts up 390.2 yards per game. A bright note for the Ravens defense can be seen though; Baltimore may give up a lot of yards, but they find ways to hold their opponents to field goals rather than touchdowns as they rank 11th in scoring defense, but again will have their hands full with a Manning led offense that scores the second most points per game in the league.
Baltimore's defense will already be without LB Jameel McClain who is out with a neck injury and fellow LB Dannell Ellerbe's status is still uncertain after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. Other big question marks for the defense will be if LB Ray Lewis will play or not coming off of a torn triceps, as this game is the first game Lewis is eligible to return, but he has not yet been added to the active roster, so his status remains unclear. If Lewis and Ellerbe cannot play, the Ravens will be left with Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbedejo, and Albert McClellan as their inside linebackers.
Everything seems to be going against the Baltimore Ravens in this matchup, but for the first time all season, this team may be in a bit of desperation mode as they are looking to avoid a third straight loss and prove the firing of Cam Cameron was not a mistake or an underlying issue with the team. Desperation has stung the Ravens the past two weeks as both opponents had their backs against the wall for their playoff lives and came out on top, so perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for Baltimore.
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