Just one month ago, the Denver Broncos paid a visit to M&T Bank Stadium and handled the Ravens with ease. Then the Broncos won their last two games of the regular season by at least a touchdown, the same fashion in which they’d won the previous nine. Now, with an 11-game winning streak and a week of rest, the Broncos seem poised to make the most of their blockbuster signing of Peyton Manning. They will try to reach the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2005, when some guy named Jake Plummer was their quarterback.
Conversely, the Ravens look to reach their third AFC Championship Game in the last five years. In spite of some key injuries and offensive inconsistency, the Ravens are riding an emotional high. They are betting that Ray Lewis’s final ride will be motivation enough to overcome the Denver juggernaut. Can they do it?
We’ve looked back at the week 15 matchup against the Broncos and dissected several key plays. This will not come as a shock to anyone, but the young Baltimore secondary will be tested a great deal on Saturday. The Ravens have recently leaned on their Quarters coverage to allow the corners to play with cushion and to give the safeties in the middle of the field more freedom to fill run gaps. The Ravens will need to play with great discipline against a Manning led passing game. He loves to test the secondary deep down the field, especially a secondary as inexperienced as that of the Ravens. However, this also means that many of the routes are slow to develop, giving the Ravens’ pass rush time to get to the quarterback. In week 15, the Ravens pressured Manning on 8 of 22 dropbacks (36%), and his passer rating was a measly 39.6 when pressured. It will be another extremely tough matchup, but there is some hope. On to the tape!
Situation: 1Q 11:20, 1st and 10 on Ravens 42
Offensive playcall: All comebacks
Defensive playcall: Cover 1 Pressure
In this situation, the Ravens must get pressure on Manning, or else he will pick apart the defense with these throws. Because all of the receivers are running intermediate routes, if James Ihedigbo or another pass rusher can get to Manning quickly, he may be able to disrupt the play before the routes can develop.
Situation: 1Q 10:27 1st and 10 at the Ravens 32
Offensive playcall: Double move
Defensive playcall: Cover 2-man
This play highlights the importance of discipline in the secondary. The Baltimore safeties cannot get caught out of position in this situation. This particular throw was off-target, but Manning doesn’t miss all too often.
Situation: 2Q 14:28, 1st and 10 on the Ravens 29
Offensive playcall: Pin
Defensive playcall: Quarters
This is encouraging for several reasons:
- Manning’s mastery of Xs and Os is well documented, and the play was disrupted despite being a perfect call against the coverage
- The Ravens youth at cornerback is not getting exposed like some fans feared
- Williams has clearly improved/learned since given up a touchdown on a very similar play to San Diego in Week 12 (below)
- In the Week 15 matchup, Manning not only tested the secondary but it was very clear that he wanted to run the ball too. There are many instances in the game where you can see Manning audible to a run play based on the Raven’s defensive personnel. They had success in the running game too, running backs had 43 carries(!) for a total of 167 rushing yards including Knowshon Moreno’s 115 yard outing.
- All of the plays drawn up above had a play action element. Peyton Manning likes to manipulate safety positioning both through play action and through eye manipulation. Raven safeties need to play with discipline and not fall for false run keys.