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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.
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Doug Duran, MCT
It doesn't get more dangerous when it comes to pass-rushing tandems than Denver Broncos' Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller and Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Miller is as fast as running backs and wide receivers at 6-foot-3, 237 pounds, having run the 40-yard dash in the high 4.4 to low 4.5 range. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate led the Broncos with 18 1/2 sacks and six forced fumbles this season. In particular, his ability to bend low to the ground like a speed skater while not losing any acceleration or power is unique. Dumervil is similar in style to Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, a relentless bull rusher who has a good spin move and enough speed and power to give Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie trouble. Dumervil had 11 sacks during the regular season. The Ravens will likely have quarterback Joe Flacco roll away from Miller, who typically lines up on the right side. They'll need to give right tackle Michael Oher some chip-blocking assistance on Miller. It's not exactly a pick-your-poison situation, but it does have that kind of feel. The Broncos rank third against the pass and led the NFL with 52 sacks during the regular season. After shutting out Dwight Freeney last Sunday and preventing Robert Mathis from harassing Flacco much, the Ravens' offensive line needs to duplicate that performance to provide enough time for wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta to create separation downfield. Obviously, Flacco needs to play the way he did in the second half against the Colts and for the entire game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Ravens can't afford the kind of costly miscues he committed in the first game against Denver, when he had an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown and lost a fumble that led to a Broncos field goal. This is the time for Flacco to prove he's worthy of a big-time contract. If he falters against the Broncos, it will raise more concerns about how the Ravens should approach this delicate negotiation.
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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: