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Tough to Tackle

Posted Oct 10, 2010

The Broncos didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in their first four games. Baltimore's Ray Rice achieved the feat on Sunday as the Ravens tough running game showed the Denver defense it still has plenty to improve upon.

BALTIMORE -- After analyzing game film of the Broncos' Week 4 win in Tennessee, Head Coach Josh McDaniels passed along the stat that his defense had missed just two tackles in holding reigning NFL rushing king Chris Johnson to less than three yards per carry.

In the minutes after Sunday's 31-17 loss at M&T Bank Stadium a week later, Broncos defenders didn't need to see the tape to know exactly what went wrong. There was a clear difference between the impressive effort against the Titans and a performance in which the unit ceded a season-high 233 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns to the Ravens.

"It's real simple, man," Kevin Vickerson said. "Either you make the tackle or you don't. If you don't, you see what happens."

The Broncos entered the game in the top half of the league in rushing defense through four games, while not allowing any rusher to top the 100-yard mark. In a matchup of squads that pride themselves on being physical, those stats didn't hold up.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice finished with 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and the Ravens ran the ball nearly twice as often as they passed it to grind out the home win.

"They just capitalized on our mistakes -- capitalized on our missed tackles and missed assignments," Mario Haggan said. "That's what good running teams do."

The Ravens used their passing game to set up the run. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 145 of his 196 yards in the first half as Baltimore took a double-digit lead into the intermission. At times early on, the Broncos run defense even proved stout, such as the first-drive, goal-line stand that forced a 10-play Ravens march to end without points.

After halftime, Baltimore turned to the ground game, running the ball 29 times while Flacco attempted just nine passes.

That included a 14-play, 72-yard scoring drive that chewed more than seven minutes off the game clock between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters. The Ravens ran the ball 11 times on the drive, including Rice's 1-yard touchdown plunge to end it.

Haggan called the scoring drive -- which allowed the Ravens to extend their lead to 24-7 early in the fourth quarter -- "frustrating."

"They got the drives where they just pounded it, pounded it and kept picking up first downs," said Vickerson, who started along the defensive line for the second straight game. "We couldn't get our offense back on the field."

Rice, who has battled a knee injury in recent weeks, came in averaging less than 60 yards per game on the ground. The third-year running back flashed his 2009 form against the Broncos, topping the 100-yard mark on an early fourth-quarter run and reaching the end zone for the first two times this season.

When he took a break, Willis McGahee filled in well. The veteran added 10 carries for 67 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Flacco also added a rushing touchdown.

McDaniels expressed disappointment in his team's toughness, both mentally and physically. The head coach said his defense simply didn't have enough success against the run to discourage the Ravens from pounding the running game, which took a toll as the game went on.

"Anytime you're on the field for 35, 36 minutes like we were," McDaniels said, "you run the risk of wearing down and giving up some yardage at the end of the game that certainly you don't want to give up."

The result was 99 more yards on the ground than the defense has yielded in any game this season, a stat that had veteran members of the defense tossing around such phrases as "containment," "discipline" and "finishing plays" as they talked about improving going forward.

After impressive performances against some of the league's best backs, the Broncos were not happy with how they handled the challenge of Baltimore's physical offensive line and accomplished rushers. But with the New York Jets -- a similar squad that had the league's top rushing offense a year ago -- coming to INVESCO Field at Mile High next Sunday, they know they'll get a chance to correct some of those mistakes very soon.

"To give up that many yards rushing," Champ Bailey said, "it lets you know we've still got work to do -- a lot of fine tuning to do."