Jussel: Broncos have what it takes to beat Ravens

Herm Edwards knows of what he speaks.

Edwards speaks early and often on ESPN’s SportsCenter, NFL Live and seemingly every other talking-head show, and what he says usually makes sense.

I think the former Jet and Chief head coach hit the nail on the head early in the week while analyzing today’s Ravens vs. Broncos playoff matchup in Denver.

Much has been made of Raven Revenge.

Much has been made of several Ravens returning to the lineup on the defensive side, chief among them middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

There also has been background noise regarding the Broncos, proud possessors of an 11-game win streak, losing momentum thanks to a bye and a week off.

Garbage, said Edwards, to all of the above.

“The hardest place to play in the NFL is Denver,” he said. “It’s tougher to play in Denver even than in Seattle. There is that altitude, and it is real. It saps you. There is also Peyton Manning and the no-huddle. That and the altitude is a deadly combination.”

Edwards then adds the real clincher: “The Ravens are old. They have a short week. They just played a game in which their defense was on the field 85 plays. They’ll be done by the third quarter.”

Let’s go with Edwards’ premise and take it a couple of steps farther:

The last time these two teams played, not so long ago on Dec. 16 in Baltimore, the Broncos ran up a 31-3 lead before winning 34-17. Denver did it despite Manning’s lowest passing total of the season, 208 yards on only 28 passes.

This was Knowshon Moreno’s time to shine, with Willis McGahee’s replacement hurdling his way to 118 yards on 22 attempts and adding a touchdown. Wide receiver Eric Decker was also huge in this one with eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown.

Manning never really had to try to force the ball to his best receiver, Demaryius Thomas, hitting him only four times for 13 yards.

Denver’s defense was the real story of this one, with the Ravens being held to 278 total yards, just 56 on the ground. Cornerback Chris Harris also picked off Joe Flacco for a TD return as the Broncos constantly hurried the Ravens’ QB.

Denver dominated on that day.

That domination and the fact Manning has won nine games in a row against the Ravens are the biggest reasons the Broncos are roughly a nine-point favorite going into today’s contest.

There are a couple of other reasons the Broncos should win this one handily:

For one, the Colts pounded out more than 150 yards rushing last week although losing to the Ravens. The Colts are one of the league’s worst rushing teams.

Denver will be able to run the ball inside even though Mr. Bluster, Lewis, is back on the field. And if the Broncos can run the ball, that certainly opens up the play-action passing game downfield for Manning & Co.

Another factor will be the Broncos’ defensive unit, once no match physically for the Ravens. This unit has grown up. Once Ray Rice and his young partner Bernard Pierce are contained, Flacco becomes very antsy in the pocket.

The way Flacco hurts other teams is by throwing deep lobs to Anquan Boldin. Boldin caught five passes for 145 yards in the Ravens’ win over the Colts. Denver’s star corner, Champ Bailey, held Boldin without a catch in their last matchup.

Baltimore will hit tight end Dennis Pitta occasionally and loves to throw screens to Rice. But those short tosses won’t be enough to match TDs with the Broncos.

Peyton and his glove, a game played in cold-but-dry conditions in a loud New Mile High, a Bronco defense that has become a force and a Baltimore team that doesn’t play well on the road and is indeed old and beat up can mean only one thing:

I take my 13-3 record picking with or against Denver and say the Broncos win it with relative ease, 27-17.

Then it will be time to start thinking about the B Boys, Belichick and Brady.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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