Broncos at Ravens: Which defense shows up Sunday?

Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are off to another terrific start. But what can be expected when the team clashes with the unpredictable Baltimore Ravens?

Stop if you’ve heard this one before. The Denver Broncos have won their first two games of the season.

Call it déjà vu. Call it Groundhog Day. It any case, regardless of the starting quarterback and/or the head coach in recent years, the Men from Mile High are off to a 2-0 start for the sixth consecutive year.

Of course, that has amounted to much in terms of the last two seasons. In 2016, the club actually won its first four games before dropping seven or their final 12 contests and missing the playoffs. A year ago, then-new head coach Vance Joseph led the team to a 3-1 start. But the Broncos would drop 10 of their final 12 games and finish with a losing record (5-11) for the first time since 2010.

But both of those victories came at home as the team managed narrow wins over the Seattle Seahawks (27-24) and Oakland Raiders (20-19). Now Vance Joseph’s club hits the road for the first time and it was a place that was not kind to the team in 2017, winning just once in eight tries. And they will face a club that has shown its usual Jekyll and Hyde tendencies.

What to make of the Baltimore Ravens? Just four days after stifling the Buffalo Bills and knocking around quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen, coordinator Don Martindale’s defensive unit was taken apart by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.

The formula for the Ravens from a year ago was once again on display in the Queen City. This was a team that last season posted some very respectable defensive numbers in terms of yards allowed. But the truth was that John Harbaugh’s defensive unit was very dependent on taking away the football. A season ago, Baltimore led the NFL by forcing 34 turnovers in ‘17. While 28 of those takeaways came in their nine wins, they forced only six opponent miscues in their seven setbacks. This season, there were a pair of interceptions in the Week 1 rout of the Bills. Four days later, there were zero takeaways in a humbling 34-23 loss at Cincinnati.

So can the Baltimore defense take advantage of Broncos’ quarterback Case Keenum, who has led the club to a pair of wins but had his ups and downs in those contests? The journeyman signal-caller, who comes off an impressive ’17 season with the Minnesota Vikings, has thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdown passes (3) in his first two outings with Denver. Keenum has hit on 59.5 percent of his throws but has also been sacked only twice in the wins over the Seahawks and Raiders.

Common sense suggests that it will be the opportunistic Ravens that show up on Sunday at home and harass Keenum into a few mistakes. But Harbaugh’s inconsistent team went from six sacks in the win over the Buffalo Bills to zero quarterback traps in the loss at Cincinnati. And instead of Joseph’s team imploding on the road once again, perhaps it’s Broncos’ outside linebacker Von Miller (four sacks in two games) that is putting a hurt on erratic Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco.

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