5 keys to the Ravens-Broncos game

Aaron Wilson defines 5 keys that will help determine the winner of Sunday's Ravens-Broncos contest.

5 keys to the game

1. Can the Ravens contain Clinton Portis and establish Jamal Lewis?

The answer would appear to be "affirmative" to both questions for the Baltimore Ravens against the Denver Broncos. Portis is an elusive running back with speed. However, his mouth got the best of him last year when he proclaimed that Ray Lewis "ain't nothing spectacular." Lewis responded with a season-high 20 tackles as Portis was limited to 55 yards. Since last year, Lewis has undergone successful shoulder surgery, Portis rushed for over 1,500 yards and both are having strong seasons thus far. The Ravens have severely limited opponents on the ground and Lewis is confident that he'll shut down Portis again.

Meanwhile, league rushing leader Jamal Lewis will have a size and speed advantage over a group of swift, undersized Broncos linebackers. It's critical that the Ravens vary the direction of running plays. If both Lewises excel, this football game's result could become academic for Baltimore.

2. Pressure Denver quarterback Danny Kanell.

Kanell acquitted himself well when pressed into duty last week after an injury to Steve Beuerlein, but there are reasons why the former third-stringer was out of the league for two years. Kanell is an intelligent player, a doctor's son who doesn't make many mistakes. However, he doesn't have a very strong arm. He's fairly immobile and the Ravens should be able to chase him down. The Broncos' left tackle situation is a mess with Ephraim Salaam out.

Marques Douglas and Terrell Suggs could have field days. The Ravens would love to see Adalius Thomas and Peter Boulware join what shapes up as a sack parade.

3. Avoid turnovers and protect rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

In an upset loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Boller fumbled twice and was intercepted once to set up three scores. He also posted career-high numbers for yardage, touchdowns and quarterback rating. While Boller needs to be more cognizant of securing the football and avoiding forced throws, his blockers need to give him more time. Boller was hit way too often against the Bengals, and is now nursing a sprained left shoulder. This is a good pass-rushing defense, especially Trevor Pryce and Bert Berry. Baltimore has to adjust better to blitzes. Boller needs to achieve a quicker release by committing to a course of action.

4. Account for Rod Smith and Co.

This is an excellent receiving corps capable of posting glittery numbers. Smith still has the element of speed and runs excellent routes. Ed McCaffrey is banged-up again, but the Broncos have future Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe and speedy Ashley Lelie to throw to. Portis is a top safety valve, and that's one pass that Kanell can definitely throw. It's a tough task, but Chris McAlister and Corey Fuller have to be able to run step for step with Smith and Lelie. This may be a game where strong safety Ed Reed can't be as involved in the blitz package because he's needed to protect the deep pass along with free safety Gary Baxter.

5. Cut down on the penalties.

Regardless of whether referee Johnny Grier runs a by-the-book crew, Baltimore was guilty of the majority of its season-high 13 infractions for 113 yards last week.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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