By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos:
>>Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning must utilize his multiple targets to the fullest to exploit the Ravens’ aggressive defense. Although all Broncos opponents are fully aware of the tremendous risk with involving extra defenders to pressure Manning, there will come a point when the Ravens need to do what their defense does best, and try to generate heat via the blitz. That’s when Manning is at his most dangerous, because no one is better at anticipating the blitz and reacting accordingly. He will make good use of top receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but he also won’t hesitate to spread the ball around, given that five Denver receivers had more than 40 receptions this season.
>>The Ravens’ defense needs to find a way to contain running back Knowshon Moreno. In Week 15, Moreno ran for 115 yards against a Ravens defense that just allowed 152 rushing yards in last weekend’s wild-card game against the Colts. If Moreno gets rolling, the Ravens don’t have much of a prayer against Manning, who can then make the most of his masterful use of play-fakes. The Ravens need to get much more than the emotional boost that Ray Lewis provided last weekend with his return from his torn triceps. They need him to be a large factor in stuffing the run, especially with defensive tackle Haloti Nagata being less than dominant in recent games.
>>Denver’s pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have to prevent Joe Flacco from finding his comfort zone. Miller is one of the NFL’s more dominant pass rushers, and he is going to force the Ravens’ offensive line to give him extra attention. Of course, when that happens, Dumervil should have additional freedom to operate. Miller and Dumervil are likely to take advantage of the Flacco’s tendency to hang onto the ball a little too long before throwing.
>>Ravens running back Ray Rice has to take better care of the football and find the daylight that mostly didn’t exist when the teams last met. Rice fumbled twice against the Colts, continuing a disturbing trend of coughing up the ball in the postseason. The Broncos held him to only 56 rushing yards in Week 15. Baltimore’s other running back, Bernard Pierce, ran for 103 yards against Indianapolis last week, and a one-two ground punch (with solid blocking from fullback Vonta Leach) figures to be the best way for the Ravens to find some running room against Denver.
>>The Broncos must do a better job in pass coverage against Ravens tight end Dennis Pita than it did in Week 15. When the teams last met, Pita caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. His success exposed the one flaw in an otherwise ultra-tight Denver secondary: covering the tight end. The Ravens will try and get as much production as they can from wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but if the Broncos’ cornerbacks continue to do their job as effectively as they have, the Ravens will likely lean on their ability to exploit Denver’s linebackers in pass coverage.
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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