ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Von Miller calls it an early season playoff-like game, who needs the media for hype?
The Broncos are 3-0 but not getting much respect nationally because their three opponents are a combined 0-10 after Jacksonville collapsed Thursday night against the Bengals. The Baltimore Ravens, as Miller said, are a worthy opponent. A sellout crowd of more than 70,000 (there will always be a few thousand no-shows because of COVID-19 fears) for the Sunday afternoon game are expected at Empower Field at Mile High.
Here’s 5 keys to the Broncos going 4-0 by beating the Ravens and putting the nation on alert that Denver indeed has a playoff-caliber team again:
1. Study how the Lions defended Lamar
Detroit didn’t beat the Ravens or their quarterback Lamar Jackson last week as they got a wrong-way bounce from the crossbar on Justin Tucker’s NFL-record, 66-yard field goal as time expired. But they did a very good job of containing Jackson, sacking him four times, intercepting him once and limiting him to 16 of 31 passing and 58 yards rushing.
Although they couldn’t stop him in the clutch. Jackson has displayed remarkable competitiveness and poise in the Ravens’ past two games to lead come-from-behind wins against the Chiefs and Lions.
2. Beat the blitz
No other NFL defense has blitzed like the Ravens have the past three-plus years so Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will have to mindful pre-snap of his “hot” receiver. With the receiver core missing Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, don’t be surprised if the Broncos employ a heavy dose of two tight end sets with Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam each providing matchup challenges for the Baltimore defense.
3. Throw it deep early to Sutton, Patrick or Hinton/Moore
One way to keep the Ravens’ defense honest, and to prevent the safety/cornerback blitz, is to chuck it deep within the first two series of the game. Show that just because Hamler and Jeudy are out, Broncos receivers can still get deep, as Courtland Sutton did in week two at Jacksonville. Tim Patrick can get open deep, too. There’s a chance Kendall Hinton could get significant snaps from the slot this week. Newly-signed former Seahawk David Moore will be active, per head coach Vic Fangio, but may need another week to pick up the playbook and get substantial playing time, and Diontae Spencer is needed first as a returner.
4. McManus matches Tucker
This game features two of the league’s best placekickers. The Broncos’ Brandon McManus is 9 of 9 field goals (4 of 4 from the 40-49 range), and 7 of 7 in 33-yard extra points this season. Tucker missed from 49 last week before drilling his 66-yarder that broke Matt Prater’s eight-year-old record of 64 yards that came while he was with the Broncos.
RELATED: Klis' Mike Drop podcast: The Broncos decisive 3-0 start, 1-on-1 with center Lloyd Cushenberry III and a real challenge on Sunday against Baltimore
5. Show faith in the kid guards
As of Thursday, it appeared the Broncos’ starting guards would be the inexperienced Quinn Meinerz and Netane Muti because starters Dalton Risner (foot) and Graham Glasgow (knee) missed practices Wednesday and Thursday with injuries. Risner returned to practice Friday and appeared to be moving well. He is listed as questionable -- Fangio said he could either be inactive, be active and back up, or start -- but Risner looked so good Friday let's tip it towards he'll play. Glasgow didn’t practice Friday and was ruled out.
Still, the Broncos have to prepare as if Risner may not play every snap Sunday. Meinerz and Muti may not be as technically sound as Risner and Glasgow, but they are extremely strong who could get an interior push against the Ravens’ defensive line of Calais Campbell (a Denver native) and Brandon Williams. Pass protection could be an issue as Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will no doubt attempt some stunts to test the kids -- and a big reason why the Broncos hope the more experienced Risner can play Sunday.
Understand that if it is both Meinerz and Muti at the guard positions Sunday, it won’t be perfect, but keep snapping and let them play through it.
RELATED: AFC Defensive Player of Month Von Miller on meeting Sunday against the Ravens: 'This is a playoff game early in the season'
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