5 Things to Watch in Ravens vs. Broncos
Aaron Wilson: As the fourth-seeded Ravens (11-6) square off with the top-seeded Denver Broncos (13-3) in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Sports Authority Field, here's a checklist of key people and areas to keep an eye on:
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1. How will the Ravens deal with Peyton Manning?
There haven't been many sure-fire strategies for how to contain Peyton Manning.
The Denver Broncos' strong-armed star quarterback is a master of deception, a true puppet master who thrives on remaining a step ahead of the defense in his chess matches with middle linebackers and free safeties.
Nine consecutive times Manning has beaten the Ravens, building a track record of dominance where the Ravens obviously owe him some payback. That's much easier said than accomplished, though.
From a strategic standpoint, the Ravens need to disrupt Manning's textbook timing.
The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player excels when he can set up in the pocket, step into his throws and deliver spirals with his classic motion. And Manning doesn't wilt when he gets hit or become gun-shy. He's courageous, playing one year after major neck surgery.
Like any quarterback, though, pressure does affect Manning if it's applied the right way. The biggest key for the Ravens' pass rush is outside linebacker Paul Kruger continuing his torrid pace.
Kruger has 11 1/2 sacks overall, nine in the regular season, and 2 1/2 against Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck last Sunday during a 24-9 wild-card win.
It's imperative that Kruger not be the only pass rusher that gets to Manning on Saturday. The Ravens will need Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (five sacks), blitzing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (4 1/2 sacks) and defensive end Arthur Jones (4 1/2 sacks) to contribute to getting after Manning and preventing him from setting up comfortably all day in the protective confines of the pocket.
If Manning has all day to throw and if the Broncos pound the football effectively with Knowshon Moreno the way they did in routing the Ravens, 34-17, last month in Baltimore, it's predictable what's going to happen.
If he's not pressured, Manning will probably advance to the AFC championship game and retiring Ravens star middle linebacker Ray Lewis will have played his final NFL game.