Beat writer Ryan O’Halloran offers three storylines ahead of the Broncos’ game against the Baltimore Ravens at Empower Field on Sunday.
4-0. chasing up
The Broncos are a narrow home favorite (two points) over Baltimore and have a chance to start 4-0 for the sixth time since 1999. Of the last five teams, only three made their quick starts postseason – a wild-card loss in 2003, a Super Bowl loss in ’13, and a Super Bowl victory in ’15. In the past two seasons, each team starting 4-0 made it to the playoffs – Kansas City and New England in ’19 and Buffalo, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Green Bay last year. The Broncos have 14, 10 and 26 points wins over the Giants, Jaguars and Jets respectively. They are dealing with adversity of injury, but the Ravens (2-1) will be the first team to test the Broncos’ in-game resolve.
The Broncos will face Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson for the first time. He was backing Joe Flaco during the teams’ last meeting, Week 3 of 2018. Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, is fifth in the league with 251 rushing yards and his average of 7.17 tops the top 40 players. But his demise will also require the Broncos to be on alert. Jackson averages 12.3 yards per effort, well ahead of second-ranked Josh Allen of Buffalo (9.7), and also ahead in yards per attempt (14.4). The Ravens have 14 completions for at least 20 yards. The Broncos have allowed 11 explosive pass plays (at least 16 yards), including seven of 20 or more yards (tied for seventh-lowest).
Baltimore’s third-down trouble
The Broncos are in third place, 24th, converting their 35.5% chances, but they are brightening it compared to the Ravens. Baltimore ranks 30th at 30.3% and its crutches have been much longer thirds and longer. Crows are 1 in 16 when seven or more yards down the third are required. Overall, they went 3 out of 12 in Las Vegas, 6 out of 11 in Kansas City, and 1 out of 10 in Detroit. If the Broncos can get the Ravens into third and long, it will semi-limit Jackson’s willingness to leave the pocket and scramble for the first down. Through three games, Broncos opponents are 6 out of 14 when they need 4-7 yards, but 2 out of 13 when they need eight or more yards.