Coupled with New England’s home loss to San Francisco on Sunday night, the Denver Broncos’ clinical demolition in Baltimore sees them in the driving seat for a first-round bye in the playoffs with two games left to play.
For the Baltimore Ravens, it marked the third straight week they have failed to wrap up the AFC North. With Pittsburgh losing, the Ravens will be in the postseason for the fifth straight season. But as it stands they are limping, literally, into the playoffs like a team that will be one-and-done.
Despite their struggles, the Ravens wouldn’t have been so far out of the game so early were it not for two critical errors. With that in mind let’s take a look at those errors and the other key performances from this AFC showdown.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
While Peyton Manning wasn’t at his best in Baltimore, he was good enough against an undermanned Ravens defense. This was helped in no small part to the fantastic work of receiver Eric Decker, who was able to consistently get open. Including his long touchdown catch in the third quarter, Decker beat Cary Williams for five catches and 100 yards. Finishing the game with 133 yards through the air from 29 snaps in routes, Decker averaged 4.59 Yards Per Route Run. Adding to his big day as a receiver, he also had a couple of nice blocks in the run game against safety James Ihedigbo.
Moreno Takes the High Road
Considering he looked to be on his way out in Denver just a few week ago, it’s a testament to running back Knowshon Moreno that he was as good as any player on the field. He didn’t make many defenders miss, with just one missed tackle forced from 21 carries, but in cutting well all game he seemed to constantly be making something positive happen. He had a total of 15 positively graded plays but the one everyone will remember is when he made Ravens safety Ed Reed look rather foolish on 1st-and-10 with 1:03 left in the first quarter. Following solid blocking by the Denver offensive line through the hole with a nice cut, he found himself one-on-one with Reed 13 yards downfield. Rather than try to go through or around him, Moreno opted to make like an Olympian and hurdle the future Hall of Famer, gaining another 7 yards.
Too Much Pressure to Handle
We had highlighted how little success Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil had recently in last week’s Marquee Matchups, so it was to be expected that he would have his best game of the past month. Making life difficult for Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele, Dumervil registered a sack, a hit, and four hurries on 39 snaps as a pass rusher to give him a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 12.2.
As was expected, Osemele struggled with the task of blocking linebacker Von Miller. On 3rd-and-10 with 4:11 left in the first quarter, Miller left the rookie right tackle for dust with a spin move, applying pressure to the quarterback and forcing the quick throw short of the first down. Of Miller’s three hits on the Ravens quarterback, two came when he was left unblocked — an interesting tactic to slow down one of the league’s premier pass rushers — while the other came in pursuit.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Flacco Seals the Game
Joe Flacco has had worse games for the Ravens, including three this season, but once again his struggles highlighted a poor offensive showing by the Ravens. We could highlight his woes overthrowing receivers or his 23.1 percent completion percentage under pressure. That all pales in comparison, however, to one throw in particular that basically sealed the game. With the Ravens facing 1st-and-goal from the Broncos’ 4-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half, Flacco threw an interception that Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. returned the length of the field for a touchdown.
It’s up there with the worst throws you’ll see all year, ticking every box in the bad quarterback manual. Stare down the receiver? Check. Late getting the ball out? Check. Forced throw? Check. It’s not an exaggeration, though it is particularly damning of the quarterback, that the only thing of merit he did on the play was chase Harris downfield and almost make the tackle. Almost. In his first game since Cam Cameron’s firing, Flacco did little to convince anyone that the Ravens should mortgage the future of the franchise on him this offseason.
Upshaw Stands Out
While the Ravens’ first selection from April’s NFL Draft, Courtney Upshaw, has had his struggles as a pass rusher, he continues to emerge as one of the best run stoppers at outside linebacker in the league. As a team Baltimore may have struggled to stop the Broncos when they decided to run it down their throats, but individually Upshaw had the best game of his career. Playing 33 snaps against the run, he found plenty of success when lined up against Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, with three of his five tackles resulting in a defensive stop.
On that long drive in the fourth quarter where the Broncos chewed 10 minutes off the clock by running right at the Ravens defense, Upshaw again made light work of a Dreessen block to record a tackle for loss. On 2nd-and-5 with 6:00 left in the game, he beat the tight end to the inside before making the stop on running back Ronnie Hillman. There’s plenty of frustration in Baltimore recently but Upshaw’s play, against the run at least, is encouraging.
Mixed Results at Cornerback
Cary Williams continues to frustrate when you watch him at cornerback. He’s capable of making plays — see his two excellent pass breakups on post routes as evidence — but you always feel he’s capable of a mistake that gives up a big play. Sunday was no different as he allowed Decker to get behind him for a long touchdown on 1st-and-10 with 10:02 left in the third quarter. Opposite Williams, Corey Graham continues to show why the Ravens would be wise to keep him in the starting lineup even with last season’s first-round draft pick, Jimmy Smith, returning to the fold from injury. Dependable against the run, where he made two tackles that resulted in a defensive stop, Graham found himself targeted in coverage just twice by Manning. Yielding one reception for 14 yards and breaking up the other pass, Graham allowed an average of 0.52 Yards Per Snap in Coverage.
– While he was on the field for just eight snaps as a pass rusher, Ravens defensive end Pernell McPhee had a PRP Rating of 31.3 with a sack and two hits.
– When using play-action, Manning completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 133 yards, including the long touchdown to Decker.
– Limited to just five carries before suffering a concussion, Ravens running back Bernard Pierce again showed his ability to make defenders miss with two missed tackles and an average of 3.20 Yards After Contact.
PFF Game Ball
While Decker provided the long touchdown, it was Knowshon Moreno’s great work as a runner that finally ground the Ravens defense down. From on his way out to a PFF Game Ball in just a few weeks, what’s next for the Broncos running back?
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon