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Ravens defense facing Denver at full strength

OWINGS MILLS - The Denver Broncos dominated the Ravens defense when the two teams met in Baltimore on Dec. 16. Peyton Manning threw for 204 yards and a touchdown, Knowshon Moreno rushed for 115 yards and a score, and the Broncos cruised to a 31-3 lead after three quarters.

When the two teams meet again, Saturday in Denver in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, however, the Ravens' defense will not be the same battered, beaten-up group it was then.

Linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, and safety Bernard Pollard all were inactive for Baltimore's first game against Denver. Now, they're all back.

"You're going to have injuries, guys who are going to be banged up," Pollard said. "It's a great thing right now that we've got a lot of our guys back. We're going up there with all of our guns."

Lewis compiled 13 tackles, one for a loss, in Baltimore's playoff opener against Indianapolis, his first game since suffering a torn triceps in Week 6 against Dallas. Ellerbe had nine tackles and Pollard played a key role in shutting down the Colts' offense.

The Ravens most likely will need that trio to perform well again to shut down Manning and the Broncos.

"When you're going to play a team like that with a quarterback like that, you're going to need all your players, all your starters mainly," Ellerbe said. "It's going to be a team game."

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said that although they have a lot of key defensive players back, it's still key to put them in situations where they can excel against Denver.

"We have to decide what can they do well, what can't they do well, what can we put them in to have success," Pees said. "I don't think it changes too much how we look at Peyton."

Manning has had tremendous success against Baltimore over his 15-year career. He's on a nine-game winning streak against the Ravens, including the playoffs.

"He's a guy who knows and picks apart guys," Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones said. "Anytime you [face] experience, you want to match with experience."

Baltimore will have plenty of experience on the field facing Manning on Saturday with the return of the 37-year-old Lewis.The middle linebacker has faced Manning 11 times during his career, although Manning has won the last seven when both have been on the field.

This will be their final bout as Lewis plans to retire at season's end.

Pollard said it helpe to have Lewis back, but it's just as important for the other defensive players to step up.

"Ray can't do it without the other 10 guys," Pollard said. "This game is not about one individual. It's not about two individuals. You've got 11 guys on defense."

Ellerbe stressed the importance of having veteran players to face Manning, and said he knows Lewis will be up for the task.

"Everybody knows what you get when you have Ray Lewis on the field," Ellerbe said. "We're going to need that."

After playing his final game in Baltimore Sunday, Lewis wasted no time in addressing the Ravens' next game and the "chess matches" he has had in the past against Manning.

"We saw them earlier in the year, but now we get them again with all of our guys back," Lewis said Sunday. "It's not about me and Peyton. It's about their team against our team. I just like our team."

In the two teams' last meeting, Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs was making his first appearance since his biceps injury and played through noticeable pain. Although Suggs' Achilles was acting up against the Colts, he's expected to be on the field more this time than last time against Denver.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Monday that the Broncos played a great game against his team in December, but he expects the Ravens to be more competitive this time.

"We believe we can compete better against them," Harbaugh said Monday. "We're more full-strength now than we've ever been all year, so it's the right time to be healthy, and I'm hoping those guys will have a big impact."

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