Five things to watch in Ravens vs. Broncos
As the Ravens (9-4) square off with the Denver Broncos (10-3) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, here's a checklist of key people and areas to keep an eye on.
-- Aaron Wilson
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1. How will the Ravens fare against Peyton Manning?
With superstar quarterback Peyton Manning at the controls, the Denver Broncos have become a formidable playoff contender.
The Broncos have won eight consecutive games since an early October loss to the New England Patriots, and they've already clinched the AFC West. It's the longest win streak for the Broncos since the 1998 squad quarterbacked by John Elway won its first 13 games before making it to the Super Bowl.
And obviously Manning has been instrumental in the run.
He leads the AFC with 30 touchdown passes, and his 104.0 quarterback rating ranks fourth in the NFL.
Although the Broncos have lost all of their previous five games in Baltimore, Manning has won all of his last eight starts against them. That includes two playoff victories over the Ravens, the last coming in the divisional round in January of 2010.
What makes Manning so dangerous is how he has maintained his arm strength, accuracy and feel for the game after missing last year with a neck injury. And he'll provide an extremely difficult task for an injury-riddled Ravens defense to contend with.
Containing Manning will require the Ravens to generate a fearsome pass rush. That's expected to primarily come from outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Arthur Jones, who have combined for 12 1/2 sacks this season.
In the secondary, free safety Ed Reed needs to have an active game against Manning and read the quarterback's eyes to break on the football.
With strong safety Bernard Pollard potentially sidelined Sunday after aggravating a rib injury, it's imperative that Reed play a superb centerfield to support James Ihedigbo, who would replace Pollard, and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Corey Graham.
During a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins last Sunday, Reed was well below his usual ball-hawking standard. And that translated into a vulnerable secondary.
The Ravens can't afford to make mistakes Sunday against Manning. He's far too good to afford any significant errors, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is big, strong and fast at 6-feet-3, 230 pounds.