Champ Bailey Takes on Joe Flacco

It's difficult to imagine a team with Baltimore's smash-mouth pedigree actually having a higher ranked pass offense (15th) than rushing (24th), as is currently the case. A knee injury to running back Ray Rice, and a schedule that's included the likes of the New York Jets and Pittsburgh, have contributed to that more pass-first mentality.

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has prepped for the Ravens many times in his career, but never seen them quite like this.

"It's amazingly different," he said, alluding to the acquisition of playmakers such as wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin. "The talent level, they probably have the best group in the league."

It's difficult to imagine a team with Baltimore's smash-mouth pedigree actually having a higher ranked pass offense (15th) than rushing (24th), as is currently the case. A knee injury to running back Ray Rice, and a schedule that's included the likes of the New York Jets and Pittsburgh, have contributed to that more pass-first mentality.

But so is the evolution of quarterback Joe Flacco with that better supporting cast.

"They're all good football players," Denver defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. "You've got some guys that are deep threats and some guys that are third-down (specialists). ... That's the thing that jumps off the tape at you."

The Broncos' 17th-ranked pass defense has been hit and miss to date.

The team did a solid job of containing Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark of the Colts two weeks ago but saw Austin Collie run wild, operating in single coverage. Denver had problems with the tight end down the middle of the field against Jacksonville.

Yet Tennessee passed for just 45 yards after halftime last week. The last two games were played with rookie Perrish Cox starting at cornerback, but the Broncos should get starter Andre Goodman (quad) back this week.

"(Flacco) has a lot of different areas that he can attack and that he can with the ball and I just think it makes it so much more difficult to defend one or two players n their offense -- you can't do that," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "If you take one or two of them away, you are going to get hurt by somebody else."

Bailey talked about the need to pressure Flacco since "he wants to get the ball downfield," which is also the way the Ravens offensive is designed. The evolution of the Ravens quarterback has shown up on field, culminating in his fourth-quarter drive to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

"He's so calm back there," Bailey said. "You never see him get rattled or emotional at all. He showed that last week. Guys grow a little bit and that's one position where you're going to see changes every year, because of what they see and learn on the run. He's definitely grown up a lot."

It would have been foolish to predict in the preseason that Sunday's Denver-Baltimore game in October would end up matching the No. 1 passing offense and top-ranked pass defense.

Denver's history as a rushing juggernaut and the questions surrounding Baltimore's secondary, particularly minus safety Ed Reed and cornerback Domonique Foxworth, both injured and out, alone would have created skepticism.

But that's the situation heading into Sunday.

Denver is off to its worst four-game start rushing in franchise history at a paltry 55 yards per game, turning the Broncos into a spread-it and shred-it passing offense.

And the Ravens -- helped in part by a schedule that's included backups Charlie Batch and Seneca Wallace and the conservative side of Mark Sanchez over the first month -- are limiting opponents to just 119 yards through the air.

"I don't think it's as much blitz as I remember from the past," quarterback Kyle Orton said of the challenge ahead. "But they probably drop eight more than any team that I know in the league. Get eight guys into coverage and every player on their team is smart. ... They route read really well and pass routes off to one another very good."

Given time, Orton should be able to expose the Ravens secondary. He's demonstrated the ability to decipher the defensive looks quickly and deliver the ball to the open receiver all season. Only Kurt Warner in 2000 (1,557) has more passing yards than Orton over the first four games of the regular season in NFL history.

So perhaps the Ravens will try to dial up more blitzes Sunday to knock him out of rhythm. Tennessee ran a blitz-heavy scheme last week and sacked Orton six times.

Coach Josh McDaniels is just as wary of Baltimore's ability to pressure -- and to cover behind it.

"I know that people talk about the loss of Ed Reed, which certainly has a big impact in terms of his playmaking ability, but I think their secondary has played very well," he said. "Their corners don't give up any big plays. They come up and are good tacklers. There's not a lot of run-after-the-catch plays. The front seven certainly applies a lot of pressure without having to blitz and then when they do choose to blitz, they're effective in that mode too."

The lack of 'chunk plays' against Baltimore has meant teams have had to methodically drive downfield in order to put up points. But opponents are converting just 23.5 percent on third down, the best mark in the league.

Denver already has 22 completions of 20-plus yards this season and, given the state of the running game, may have to continue that trend to be successful against Baltimore.

Take out a 14-for-20 performance in Week 2 vs. Seattle and the Broncos have converted just 10 of 38 third-down conversions in their other three games.

It doesn't seem plausible right now that they can methodically put together long, balanced drives but instead will have to challenge the Ravens downfield to have success.

"I'd like to see how good our offense is if we can be balanced," Orton responded. "We could do some good things. We've got good players. Certainly this offense is build around being a balanced attack, and we'd love to get to that point."





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