Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens

Ravens vs. Broncos scouting report for Week 4: Who has the edge?

The Ravens won a thriller against the Lions in Detroit on Sunday to keep pace in the AFC North and improve to 2-1. Now Baltimore heads to Denver to face the undefeated Broncos at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:

Ravens passing game vs. Broncos pass defense

Quarterback Lamar Jackson has made good on his promises to look downfield more frequently (8.7 yards per attempt compared to 7.3 in 2021). But he’s also overreached at times, leading to three interceptions in his past two games. Jackson was a fascinating mixed bag in the Ravens’ 19-17 win over the Lions on Sunday, completing just 16 of 31 passes and taking four sacks but earning his highest Pro Football Focus grade of the year. Ravens receivers, most notably Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, failed to haul in some of his best throws. While Brown struggled in Detroit, tight end Mark Andrews had his best receiving game of the season with five catches on seven targets for 109 yards. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins has given Jackson the deep threat the Ravens hoped for, averaging 17.3 yards per catch. His 36-yard catch on fourth down against the Lions set up Justin Tucker’s remarkable 66-yard game-winning field goal.

Advertisement

The Ravens’ pass blocking has been all over the place — disastrous in Week 1, stellar in Week 2, problematic again in Week 3. They need left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to play better than he did in Detroit, where he allowed nine pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. They’ll be tested by a Denver defense that has allowed just 4.3 yards per pass attempt, with four interceptions and eight sacks through three weeks. Von Miller (4 sacks, 6 tackles for loss) has resumed his place as one of the league’s best edge rushers after he missed all of last season. He’s backed up by an excellent pair of safeties in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson and a precocious rookie cornerback in Patrick Surtain II. One caveat: the Broncos have feasted on a pair of rookie quarterbacks and a struggling Daniel Jones, so we don’t know how they’ll hold up against a player of Jackson’s caliber.

For the Ravens, wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin returned to practice after spending the first three weeks on injured reserve, but it’s too early to say when they might contribute in games. Jackson (back) missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, raising questions about how banged up he might be in Denver.

Advertisement

EDGE: Broncos

Broncos passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

A few months ago, we might have expected the Ravens secondary to shut down a Denver passing offense that struggled last season. That’s no longer close to a given. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has delivered high efficiency in his first season as the Broncos’ starter, completing 76.8% of his passes with no interceptions despite frequently throwing downfield. The Broncos rank 20th in attempts, but Bridgewater has made good use of his opportunities against a trio of unimpressive pass defenses. Injuries have thinned out a talented Denver receiving corps, with 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy (high-ankle sprain) shelved for at least six weeks and KJ Hamler gone for the season. That leaves the burden on top deep threat Courtland Sutton (15 catches on 20 targets, 210 yards) and veteran Tim Patrick (12 catches on 13 targets, 174 yards, 2 touchdowns), both of whom have played well. Bridgewater also likes to look for tight end Noah Fant (12 catches on 17 targets, 110 yards).

The Ravens rank 30th in pass defense and have allowed opponents to average 7.7 yards per attempt, but they are getting healthier, with veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith back in the lineup and outside linebacker Justin Houston expected to return from a one-week absence on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Many Ravens, from linebackers Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen to rookie safety Brandon Stephens, have graded poorly in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Stephens could play a big role in Denver with starting safety DeShon Elliott sidelined by a quad injury.

On the other side of the ledger, safety Chuck Clark has played the best football of his career; he led the Ravens with 12 tackles and a sack against the Lions. Defensive end Calais Campbell doesn’t have any sacks, but he’s been the Ravens’ best and most consistent performer upfront. The Broncos could be without starting guards Graham Glasgow (knee) and Dalton Risner (ankle), so don’t be surprised if Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale tests them with blitzes.

EDGE: Broncos

Ravens running game vs. Broncos run defense

The Ravens attempted just 22 runs against a Lions defense that stacked the box in hopes of forcing Jackson to throw. Led by Jackson (7 carries, 58 yards), they still averaged 5.3 yards per carry. They lead the league in rushing and yards per attempt despite missing running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. That’s a credit to Jackson, who ranks fourth in the league in rushing, but also to offensive lineman who have performed more steadily as run blockers than pass blockers. Ty’Son Williams (164 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) has been the top threat in a patched-together group of running backs.

Denver ranks second in run defense and has allowed just 3.6 yards per carry, but again, the Broncos have dominated poor offenses. The Ravens will offer a different level of test for a crew led by linebacker Alexander Johnson and defensive end Dre’Mont Jones.

EDGE: Ravens

Advertisement

Broncos running game vs. Ravens run defense

The Broncos split their offense evenly between pass and run and rank fourth in attempts (one spot behind the Ravens). They split their carries almost evenly between veteran Melvin Gordon (193 yards, 4.6 yards per carry) and rookie Javonte Williams (138 yards, 3.5 yards per carry). They’re not as efficient as the Ravens, because they don’t have a unique threat such as Jackson at the controls, but they will hammer away at a Baltimore defensive front that has played well against the run.

The Ravens have offered stout resistance on the edges, where Campbell and Houston have played well and Odafe Oweh has busted out as one of the league’s top rookie defenders. The Ravens expect to have nose tackle Brandon Williams, who spent Week 3 on the reserve/COVID-19 list, back in the middle.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens special teams vs. Broncos special teams

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Weekly

Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

Tucker broke the scale for comparison here when he made his record-long 66-yard field goal to beat the Lions. He is now widely acknowledged as the best ever at his job, though he did miss from 49 yards earlier in Sunday’s game. Sam Koch is off to another fine start in his 16th year as the Ravens’ punter, with a 41.9-yard net average. Devin Duvernay has mishandled two punts this season, though he did not lose the first and the second was wiped out by a penalty. He has made up for it by averaging 17.9 yards on seven punt returns.

Broncos kicker Brandon McManus has made all nine of his field-goal attempts. Denver allowed a 102-yard touchdown on a kickoff return against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Broncos have surrendered just 4 return yards on nine punts by Sam Martin.

EDGE: Ravens

Advertisement

Ravens intangibles vs. Broncos intangibles

The Broncos have done what they were supposed to do against three lower-tier opponents, winning by at least 10 points each week. Bridgewater has brought stability to their offense, and Vic Fangio is working with a well-balanced team as he seeks his first winning record in three seasons as Broncos coach. Opponents have long viewed Denver as one of the most difficult road stops in the NFL.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have started their season in erratic fashion. They followed the emotional high of their win over the Kansas City Chiefs by doing their best to squander a lead over the lowly Lions. Then, Tucker’s historic kick gave them a thrill of a different sort. They’ve always found ways to win regular season games with Jackson (32-8 career record) at quarterback, but they’re still searching for a consistent identity. They won’t be daunted by the Broncos’ 3-0 record against lesser teams.

EDGE: Broncos

Prediction

The Ravens have played three one-score games. The Broncos have beaten up on three bad teams. Is this a matchup of AFC contenders or a mystery bowl between two teams with a lot of questions left to answer? The Ravens will have the most dynamic player on the field in Jackson, but the Broncos have made fewer mistakes and have played better defense. They’ll edge out another victory at home. Broncos 27, Ravens 24.


Advertisement