Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Nov 2009

ESPN AGS: Ravens over Broncos

Baltimore's domination of the previously undefeated Broncos helps show us that the Ravens are a major contender despite their 4-3 record.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 04 Nov 2009

15 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2009, 9:13pm by B-Rick


by nibiyabi :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 11:59am

So I guess since the switch to ESPN, you're doing these based on popular opinion, not DVOA. DVOA predicted this outcome.

by Eli (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 12:05pm

Ravens were also 3.5 point favorites

by Fontes of Wayne :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 12:52pm

A 3.5-point favorite which won by 23 points, on the road, against an undefeated team with a top-5 defense. That's not AGS material?
The other choices (just eyeballing it, TEN-JAX, ARI-CAR, PHI-NYG) aren't really any more compelling.

by sloopduck (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 1:09pm

The Ravens were the home team.

by Fontes of Wayne :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 1:24pm

Oops. Those little "@" symbols always throw me.
I'll stand by my recollection of the margin of victory and Denver's previous record.

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 12:51pm

We decided to do this game because Denver was undefeated, and the size of the victory was so much larger than anyone could have expected. Also, we had done Arizona in the previous article. It's strange that every time someone doesn't like something around here, it gets blamed on ESPN... this was Vince and my decision.

by Anonymous3737 (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 2:00pm

ESPN does soooo many bad things that it's just better to assume them rather than our heroic FO writers.

by jmaron :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 3:09pm

Can you think of a better scapegoat?

by tuluse :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 4:07pm

You mean all wrongs in the world aren't ESPN's fault?

by Eli (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 2:00pm

Fair enough. I'm just bitter because I had Arizona in my survivor pool and was hoping that outcome was at least surprising.

by Samson151 (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 4:26pm

You're kidding, right? I'm no prognosticator, and I saw that result coming from half a mile away. You had one team that had been playing above its head, completing lots of short passes, and another that has the defense to defeat just that sort of attack -- and playing at home. IMO the Broncs would have been lucky to stay within 14.

Look, Kyle Orton is a flawed QB, the Broncs o-line is vulnerable to a heavy rush, and Eddie Royal has nervous hands when there's a safety rushing up his backside.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 6:00pm

Actually, we note in the story that Denver usually gets a ton of YAC, and Baltimore usually gives up a ton of YAC. So if anything, this looked like a great matchup for Denver's offense.

by Anonymous34234145345345135 (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 7:04pm

And I was stupid enough to put money on the Broncos for the first time. Its weird that finally, gut instinct (Broncos are a disaster waiting to happen) was validated when stats were looking to be in their favor in so many ways.

by John Gach (not verified) :: Wed, 11/04/2009 - 8:37pm

I was surprised to see no mention of the difference in special teams play, which played a huge role in the outcome. It seemed as though Denver spent much of the game in the vicinity of its own 20 yard line, while the Ravens, especially in the fourth quarter were mostly starting around midfield. When they had poor or mediocre field position, both teams played conservatively -- and Denver's defense in the first half nearly matched the very high level of the Ravens' defensive play (where dat come from? will we see it again? check again after the upcoming game at Cincinnati). Though I don't know it as a fact, I strongly suspect that the Denver coaching staff was not ready for either the offensive or defensive schemes used by the Ravens. On defense the Ravens played, really for the first time this year, more of a Rex-Ryan style defense with pressure on the QB coming at strange angles and from unexpected players -- when was the last time Chris Carr had a sack? And on offense Cam Cameron seems to have ended his three-game slump. Whereas a lot of us Baltimorons had thought that playcalling had started to become Billick-era predictable again, Sunday it wasn't. Running the hurryup offense early in the game, with Flacco calling his own plays? Who expected that?

The score was 6-0 at halftime, in accord with expectations. Then it was 16-7 after the third quarter -- 10-7 + Lardarius Webb's 95 yard kickoff return for a TD, during which he was untouched by another human until mobbed by joyous teammates in the endzone. Still only a two-score game and hardly out of reach. In the fourth quarter, though, Baltimore put the game away with two impressive drives for TDs, albeit both on relatively short fields. It seemed to me that Baltimore's O & D lines were both pushing Denver around just about at will in the fourth quarter. Denver, stuck once again with horrible field position and seemingly unwilling to risk long passes downfield, stayed with what had been successful all year, even though it hadn't been working in this game.

I'd love to know what Baltimore's DVOA on both offense & defense was in the fourth quarter. Like the Ravens' third down DVOA for the entire game, it must be off the charts for both. I'd also be curious to hear from a knowledgeable Denver fan why Denver stuck with the same game plan in the fourth quarter while the game was obviously slipping away. It really seems as though there was no Plan B. With the Ravens having shut down both yards-after-the-catch and Denver's rushing game (the first a hell of a lot more surprising than the second), one might have expected something else, maybe some slant passes down the middle of the field with routes longer than five yards -- the kind the Ravens D-backs had been turning into 50 yard plays for the opponent all year. Denver threw exactly one long pass the entire game, which resulted in a dubious pass interference call against Foxworth, who was guarding Marshall, and which directly led to Denver's TD early in the third quarter.

On reflection, the two teams had similar game plans: establish the run, move the ball efficiently through the air with safe short & intermediate passes & screens. I'm not sure, but I can't remember Flacco passing in Bailey's direction the entire game. By a commodious vicus of recirculation we end where we started: Denver's poor special teams play, coupled with the Ravens highly efficient play on both sides of the ball, never gave Denver's offense any wiggle room to take some chances with low risk. Of course, it helps to have Joe Flacco (Ben Roethlisberger in disguise?) instead of Kyle Orton, but Orton didn't lose the game for Denver. Given the constant pressure he was enduring, I was impressed that he didn't commit a single turnover (though the Ravens defenders did drop two interceptions). If it had been the erstwhile Baltimore Kyle, the score would have been really ugly.

For a team that got walloped both by DVOA & on the scoreboard, Denver looked pretty damn good. It played a quality team on the road in a game that was for the Ravens a playoff game; played a team that historically plays very well after its bye; played its worst game of the year while the opponent played its best game; had some bad luck with the Ravens recovering both fumbles; suffered what had to be its worst special teams play for the year; had woeful field position the entire game; punted eight times; yet still had a feasible chance to win going into the fourth quarter. Yes, given the very high quality of their play, the Ravens slowly but inexorably kept increasing the lead. But they had to win the game. Denver didn't beat itself. Even the one turnover resulted from a terrific play by Ed Reed. Denver only gave up 292 yards to a potent offense. The Ravens just used those 292 yards very efficiently to generate 23 points. The Ravens aren't as good as they looked on Sunday and Denver not as bad. The Ravens may have exposed Denver's weakness on offense, but you still will need to play really sound defense to beat them.

by B-Rick (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 9:13pm

I have been a Denver for over 30 years, and knew Denver would be lucky to win this one. Denver's defense kept them in it for a long time, despite the offense not showing up.

1. Denver always, and I mean always either loses or plays poorly when they play early on the east coast.
2. Baltimore was desperate and needed this game, Denver was high on the we're finally getting respect wave.
3. Except for the 4th quarter, this game was predominantly a one score game, despite Baltimore getting scores from a KO return and a Moreno fumble inside the Denver 30yd line.