Broncos are growing up right before our eyes

It’s fun watching the youngster grow.

As recently as two months ago, the Denver Broncos were an infant — gurgling and burping and badly in need of nurturing at all times.

They have grown rapidly, to the point where they are now a young, ornery grade schooler with a bit of an attitude. Some would say they may even be in need of being taken down a peg or two.

The school bully just happens to be lurking nearby — looking for a fight.

The bully in the neighborhood is the Baltimore Ravens squad — the team that will severely test the unbeaten Broncos today in Baltimore.

Denver coach Josh McDaniels has done a wonderful job of molding the new, improved version of the Broncos. He has patterned his new team after his old team, the New England Patriots.

That’s where McDaniels wants to go: He wants his team to be able to compete every week against the best teams, even on their turf. The Patriots do that every week (think about the last time you saw the Pats get blown out). Denver is getting closer to that level.

Today will reveal a great deal about how much the Broncos have grown.

For one, the Ravens, a team that started off 3-0 and may have been the most impressive squad in the league at that point, have now lost three in a row, all of those close margins against high-quality squads: 27-21 at New England, 17-14 to Cincinnati and 33-31 at Minnesota. All three of those games came down to the final seconds.

The Ravens, despite their recent problems finishing games, are one of the league’s most balanced teams.

On offense, they have been led by second-year QB Joe Flacco, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of his six games.

Flacco, one of the biggest QBs in captivity at 6-foot-6 and nearly 240 pounds, gets the ball down the field often, completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,674 yards and 11 TDs in the six games — very much on pace for a 4,500-yard passing season. He has one of the strongest arms in the league and likes to show it off.

He is not, however, the only method of moving the ball.

The Ravens have used squatty running back Ray Rice, only 5-7 but 210 pounds, 73 times on the ground and another 33 times in the air. He has averaged 6 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception and has now officially made Willis McGahee a second-stringer with almost 800 yards from scrimmage.

Defensively, the Ravens aren’t what they used to be, but they do have Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, Terrell Suggs as a pass rusher from the outside, and Ed Reed at safety — all still very much among the league’s elite.

When the Broncos have the ball today, as they now do every week under McDaniels, they will try to spread the Ravens out and recognize and take advantage of the blitz.

Don’t be surprised with a bundle of forays downfield against former Bronco corner Dominique Foxworth. Foxworth was never good enough to make the Broncos feel comfortable with him opposite Champ Bailey and one would think McDaniels and his staff might recognize that and attack his side of the field often.

When Denver is on defense, they have to take away Flacco’s deep throws and they have to stuff Rice in the middle of the field. If Flacco is forced into the short tosses repeatedly, Denver will be in good shape.

As has been the case most of the season, turnovers will be huge. Bronco QB Kyle Orton has obviously been very good at keeping possession of the ball through the six games and will be the key today for Denver.

If he goes through this one unscathed in the turnover category, the Broncos win it. If, however, the Ravens apply the pressure and force Denver into a couple of interceptions, the Ravens snap their losing streak and Denver’s winning streak.

I still have a hard time not thinking about the man-eating defensive unit the Ravens used to be. Although they are allowing almost 350 yards a game, they are still scary with Lewis on the field.

And I still have a difficult time thinking of the Broncos as a shutdown defensive squad that can slow both the passing and running games of a quality opponent.

But no team has beaten Denver yet, and they have beaten quality offensive teams like Cincinnati, Dallas, New England and San Diego.

I can’t fall off the bandwagon until given good reason. I’ll take my 6-0 record picking with or against Denver and say they again find a way, winning it 24-21.


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