Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mystery Football Theater: Are the Ravens and Broncos AFC Contenders or Teams Big Questions to Answer?

A wayward bounce off the crossbar in week 3 and a fourth-down stop in week 2. Given these hypothetical turns, the Ravens could be 0-3 instead of 2-1.

If the Denver Broncos had played an opponent with a single win in 2021, they probably wouldn’t be 3-0 and lead the NFL in point difference.

Based on records alone, the Ravens vs. Broncos looks like an early-season showdown between AFC contenders. But how confident can either of us be in either team as they prepare to meet in Denver on Sunday afternoon? Could this game be more a fact-finding mission than a referendum on post-season destiny?

It’s hard to pick out the many nits in the Broncos’ statistical profile. Teddy Bridgewater has completed 76.8% of his passes without a hitch, giving Denver a legitimate hope for an entire season of dependable quarterback play, a luxury the franchise has enjoyed since Peyton Manning’s final season in 2014. Haven’t enjoyed. Pass rusher supreme Von Miller has returned from a losing season to lead a defense that ranks third in the NFL against passes and second against runs. The Broncos rank fifth in the DVOA, Football Outsiders’ overall measure of team efficiency; They ranked 29th in 2020.

It must be a time of mile-high excitement as the ravens head to the Rocky Mountains, no? Well, we’ll have to see the schedule. The Broncos have dominated the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets with a combined record of 0–10. The Jets and Jaguars, both led by rookie quarterbacks, finished 30th and 31st in the DVOA, respectively, over the course of three weeks.

So are the Broncos a threat to the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC West hegemony or a paper titan? They are interested in finding themselves with another postseason contender coming to town.

“It’s really like a playoff game at the start of the season,” Miller told Denver reporters. “A lot of these guys haven’t even played in the first playoff game, and my message to these guys is — like, it’s a playoff game at the start of the season. It’s time for us to show that we’ve got a worthy one. What we’ve got against the opponent, and that’s where we’ve been focused.”

The Broncos sought to be taken seriously because of their balance. They run as much as they do offense and feature talented players on all three levels of their defense.

“When you’re able to drive the ball, you can be as balanced as you want,” said Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell, assessing Denver’s offense. “So, the way we have to compete is just by winning those early lows and winning against the runs. If it’s second and -6 or less, you can be very balanced, and you can do all the play-action. If you start getting downs first, earn downs first, you can start throwing on downs first. That’s how the game goes.”

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens’ offensive lineman will have a hard time keeping up with the 32-year-old Miller, who has four sacks and six tackles to make up for a loss through three games after missing a dislocated 2020 season . tendon in his ankle. Miller has 110 career sacks, the second most among active players, although he has only half a sack in four career games against the Ravens, including the playoffs.

“The fountain of youth has been kind to them,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “You can try a few things. Do you run at him? Do you run away from him? Do you do this? Do you do that? … I think he’s a very comfortable player.” So, he can smell a rat very quickly—this isn’t his first rodeo.”

Even if Jackson goes beyond Miller’s grasp, he will have to be careful in attacking a Broncos secondary, including a pair of excellent safeties in Karim Jackson and Justin Simmons and a potential in rookie Patrick Suren II. is star.

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The Broncos defense has faced the best Ravens by almost any measure this year. It is a difficult task for a team that is finding itself after devastating injuries on both sides of the ball.

Roman said, “As we move forward, we get a feel for new people, and I think, hopefully, we can develop a really good understanding of what they do well and where they thrive.” – flourish.” “I think it’s a process — it doesn’t just happen overnight.”

The Ravens are still figuring out how to deploy the backfield that came together almost overnight after JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards went down with knee injuries. They wait to see if Ronnie Stanley will return to the left tackle as he works to rehabilitate his surgically corrected left ankle. After missing the first three weeks in injured reserve, he welcomed wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin to practice.

Jackson leads the league in yards per attempt as a passer and yards per attempt as a runner, with the Ravens being powerful at times. “He has a unique style — a very, very effective style, but it is unique,” ​​Miller said, explaining why opponents will always take the Baltimore offense seriously. “It’s led by Lamar Jackson. He can run, he can throw, he can do all kinds of things. He can move people in and out of holes. If you take him into space, So it’s a nightmare for anyone.”

Jackson also pulled off a crucial albatross when he rallied his team to defeat the Chiefs, 36–35, in Week 2. But whatever offense the Ravens are going to commit, we haven’t seen it yet, at least not consistently.

The same can be said of defence, where they have yet to put up a perfect performance in the four quarters. Again, injury and illness have been huge parts of the story. The Ravens lost their top defensive playmaker, cornerback Marcus Peters, before the season began. Last weekend, they played the Detroit Lions without four front-seven defenders who were on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He will have three of them – Justin Houston, Justin Madubiuk and Brandon Williams – back in Denver. But they are still dealing with injuries from front-line players, including cornerback Anthony Everett, safety DeShawn Elliott and defensive end Derek Wolff.

“It’s definitely bad luck. What else can you call that?” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who missed the first two weeks with an ankle injury. “It’s definitely a little dark cloud. You can sit and cry about it, but we still have to play.”

The Ravens have dismissed the idea that they ran out of gas late in the games, but they scored 17 points after halftime against the Lions and 23 after halftime against the Las Vegas Raiders. They have yet to win decisively, something they often did in 2019 and 2020, when they led the league in points differential. Will a more healthy body allow them to be stronger in Denver?

As much as the Broncos are eager to test themselves against a top rival, the Ravens are eager to see what they can become with something close to a full roster.

“I think the core is there. The core foundation is going to be there,” Smith said. “The fact that we lost so many people and tied our left arm a little bit behind our back and Still being able to come out and come out victorious, it just shows you what kind of team we really are. So, we get all our players back and everyone is running on full cylinder, it could be a lot better, I’m sure.”

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