Broncos-Ravens Preview

The Baltimore Ravens made a statement with a big win against a

division rival in their last game, aided by the emergence of

quarterback Joe Flacco to complement their renowned defense.

That defense could be challenged Sunday when the AFC North

leaders host the Denver Broncos and their prolific passing game led

by Kyle Orton.

As usual, Baltimore (3-1) boasts a dominant defense. The Ravens

are allowing the fewest total yards per game (247.5) in the NFL,

and have given up four offensive touchdowns through four

contests.

They limited Pittsburgh to 210 yards in a 17-14 win at Heinz

Field last Sunday, intercepting quarterback Charlie Batch on the

Steelers’ final drive to seal the victory. Just prior to that play,

Flacco threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with

32 seconds remaining to rally the Ravens.

“The first quarter of the season is over and to start at 3-1 is

definitely a step in the right direction,” Flacco said.

Now in his third season, Flacco has played much better since

throwing four interceptions in a 15-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sept.

19. He’s thrown four touchdowns and one interception in his last

two games, completing 67.6 percent of his passes after connecting

on 48.1 percent in the first two contests.

“We’re going to ride with Joe,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Joe

shouldn’t have to come back because (the defense) shouldn’t let him

score. But for him to take that step last week, I just think it’s

just a step for our team to go forward and start capitalizing the

way we did.”

While Flacco is now playing well, the running game has been

underachieving. With Ray Rice gaining 20 yards on eight carries

while playing through a knee injury, Baltimore mustered 70 total

yards on the ground as its average decreased to 84.3 per game. Last

year’s Ravens averaged 137.5 rushing yards, led by Rice’s 1,339

yards.

Rice has yet to gain more than 87 or score a touchdown this

season.

On the other side of the ball, Lewis and the Ravens will face a

stiff challenge against Orton and the Broncos (2-2), who are

averaging a league-high 354.8 passing yards. Orton threw for 341

yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 26-20 win at

Tennessee on Sunday, completing 35 of 50 passes.

“The Broncos probably have, obviously, one of the most effective

passing games in history through four games,” Ravens coach John

Harbaugh said. “You get a lot of different stuff and they have a

lot of different guys to go to.”

Orton, in his second year with Denver, is looking to sustain his

success this time around. Last year he helped the Broncos open the

season 6-0 while throwing nine touchdowns and one interception.

That start came to a halt Nov. 1 in a 30-7 loss at Baltimore, when

the Ravens limited Orton to 152 yards and no touchdown passes.

Denver would finish the season 8-8.

“We’re playing together, happy for one another when one has

success,” said wide receiver Eddie Royal, who had a touchdown and

a season-high 113 yards receiving last week. “Kyle is doing a very

good job of leading us.”

While Royal hauled in eight passes against the Titans, Brandon

Lloyd continues to be Orton’s favorite target. Lloyd’s 113.5

receiving yards per game rank second in the NFL. He had a

season-high 11 catches for 115 yards last weekend.

However, Denver’s offense continues to be one-dimensional. The

Broncos have totaled 220 rushing yards this season, including a

season-low 19 against the Titans, and are averaging 2.2 yards per

carry.

“I think you can play some games and kind of lean more towards

the passing game than the running game, but I think over the long

haul if you play a season like that you’re going to ask for trouble

down the road,” coach Josh McDaniels told the Broncos’ official

website.

If Knowshon Moreno can return to action, the running game could

get a lift. The second-year back, who has missed the last two games

with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Wednesday.

Trade acquisition Laurence Maroney has underwhelmed in Moreno’s

absence. The former New England Patriot has totaled 29 yards on 23

carries for Denver.

Baltimore is 4-0 at home all-time against the Broncos, including

a 21-3 wild-card victory in 2000. The Ravens have outscored Denver

111-39 in those four wins.