Ravens making adjustments for second meeting with Broncos
By By Aaron Wilson and The Baltimore Sun
Jan 09, 2013 | 9:07 PM
The Ravens endured a thorough beating the last time they faced the Denver Broncos, dominated in virtually every facet of the game.
There were plenty of embarrassing moments for the Ravens during the 34-17 thrashing of a loss on Dec. 16 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno hurdled free safety Ed Reed, as if it was a track and field event instead of a football game. And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco uncorked a momentum-altering interception at the end of the first half with his errant throw returned 98 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Chris Harris.
Between the running game getting stonewalled, the Broncos' pass rushers harassing Flacco and the defensive backs' susceptibility to double-move pass patterns, it was an ugly day.
"When we're sharp and we're on, we're great," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said, generally referencing the offense. "When we're not, we're terrible. There's really no rocket science to it."
Now, the Ravens have a chance at redemption against the top-seeded Broncos in an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Strategic adjustments the Ravens are expected to roll out along with multiple personnel changes could have a major impact in the outcome of this rematch.
Sidelined for the first Denver game, linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, strong safety Bernard Pollard, Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson will all be in the lineup Saturday.
"It's a different Ravens team," Dickson said. "It's a different mentality. It's going to be a battle. If they think they're just going to run away with this game, then they got another thing coming."
For the Ravens, this isn't the first time they've had to game-plan for a playoff game where they've already faced that opponent at least once during the regular season.
Last year, the Ravens beat the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional-round game, 20-13, after beating them during the regular season 29-14.
During the 2010 season, the Ravens lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional round, 31-24, after splitting the annual AFC North home-and-road series with them. In 2009, Baltimore lost twice to the Indianapolis Colts, falling in the regular season and divisional round.
And during coach John Harbaugh's first season, the Ravens lost all three games against the Steelers, including a 23-14 AFC championship game defeat.
The presence of Pollard, Ellerbe and Lewis could make a difference considering they combined for 244 tackles during the regular season.
"It feels like it will be a different game," Ellerbe said. "We've got almost everyone back."
The Ravens will need Flacco to upgrade his ball security after his interception and fumble led to 10 points for Denver last month. Since that game, Flacco hasn't committed a turnover.
"It stuck with me for a couple minutes and then I moved on," Flacco said of his big interception against Denver. "We didn't play well enough to win the first game. Believe me, I'm the last guy that wants it to happen. I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That's why we are where we are right now."
The Ravens converted 1 of 12 third downs in that game as Denver built a commanding time of possession edge of 38:34 to 21:36.
And the Ravens' 11th-ranked running game was held to just 59 rushing yards on 19 carries, an average of 2.9 per carry. Only one of the Broncos' last 10 opponents has had a running back exceed 56 yards as the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles rushed for 107 yards on Nov. 25.
Beaten at the point of attack by an athletic front seven headlined by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens' offense dealt with a lot of third-and-long situations.
"Once we got down, we weren't running the ball no more and we were throwing the ball a lot," fullback Vonta Leach said. "We've just got to do a better job of getting into manageable third downs."
In the first game, the Ravens' wide receivers struggled against press coverage as starters Anquan Boldin was shut out completely and Smith was limited to one catch for 14 yards.
"We just need to execute on everything," Smith said. "Quick passes, whether it's your hots when they're blitzing or when you get the opportunity to take shots, just making everything count."
The Ravens finished with only 278 yards of total offense and a dozen first downs. Flacco was sacked three times, and completed just 50 percent of his throws.
"We can't become one-dimensional," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "We really have to be good in every single area. We have to be good in terms of our passing, and we have to be very good in terms of our running game."
Accounting for Miller and Dumervil, who have combined for 29 1/2 sacks, is a paramount responsibility for the offensive line.
"We want to get the running game going and protect Joe," Yanda said. "Those are the priorities. They're a good defense overall. It's going to be a hell of a test."
The configuration of the line has changed significantly since the first time they played Denver with Bryant McKinnie replacing left tackle Michael Oher, who shifted to right tackle with rookie Kelechi Osemele moving inside to left guard.
"I'll get to know the different people, some of their strengths and weaknesses, and put together a plan to try to put our guys in position to do things well against them," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told Denver reporters. "There's been certainly an adjustment on their part since we last played."
Meanwhile, the Ravens' defense will need to do a much better job of containing Moreno. He ran roughshod over them in the first game, gaining 115 yards and scoring one touchdown.
"We got knocked around a little bit last time and our pad level was too high," nose guard Terrence Cody said. "We need to come in with better technique and try to control their offensive line. We hate to give up those yards. We feel like it's disrespect when you try to run on us, but we know what to expect this time. They talked a little trash. I haven't forgotten that."
In December, cornerback Cary Williams and free safety Ed Reed failed to adjust to Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker's double-move on a 50-yard touchdown catch.
And star quarterback Peyton Manning was only sacked twice and completed 17 of 28 passes for 204 yards and a 94.9 passer rating.
Of course, the cerebral game of adjustments works both ways as Manning has had time to derive a detailed scouting report on the Ravens.
"He's a Hall of Fame quarterback, but we can't worry about what they're doing," Pollard said. "This is not about a revenge game or an individual game. It's about 11 guys going out and kicking some butt."