BALTIMORE — As the Broncos close in on final stretch of their 2022 season, they'll get several more chances to test themselves against playoff contenders.
The Broncos' own playoff hopes are bleak — even winning out to get to 9-8 would likely not be enough — but there's value in beating playoff-bound teams to demonstrate the potential of this team and set the stage for a more successful 2023 campaign.
Denver's next litmus test comes against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, who sit atop the AFC North and will aim to reach the playoffs for a fourth time in the past five seasons.
And inside the walls of UCHealth Training Center, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett and the Broncos are more concerned with finding a win than what it would say about their future potential.
"We want to go get our first win [since Week 8]," Hackett said Friday. "It's that simple. It doesn't matter who the opponent is. Right now, it happens to be the Baltimore Ravens. They are a very, very, very good football team. It's going to be a great challenge for us, and we have to get out there and we got to go win a football game. I think in the NFL, everybody's capable of beating everybody at any time."
These are the questions that will determine if the Broncos can start the month of December with a win:
CAN DENVER FIND A PASS RUSH?
The Broncos' pass rush has taken a hit since the trade deadline, as the team has totaled just two sacks in their last three games.
Before Bradley Chubb was dealt to Miami for a package that included a 2023 first-round pick, the Broncos had the 10th-highest pressure rate in the NFL, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats. Since the trade, that pressure rate has dropped to the third lowest in the league.
It's difficult to get pressure against Jackson, but it has been effective when teams are able to get to him this season. When facing pressure this season, Jackson has thrown two passing touchdowns, four interceptions and a 38.4 passer rating, which ranks third-lowest among qualified quarterbacks. Jackson's completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating while under pressure all rank in the bottom five in the league.
Without pressure, though, Jackson can be deadly. He's posted a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 106.7 passer rating when he hasn't been pressured.
If the Broncos can get a little bit more from players like Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto — and Dre'Mont Jones on the inside of the line — it could give them an edge against the Ravens.
CAN THE BRONCOS HOLD THE EDGE IN THE RED ZONE?
Denver will face a tough challenge against Jackson and the Ravens' offense, but the Broncos may be able to gain an edge inside the 20-yard line.
Through 12 weeks, the Ravens rank 24th in red-zone touchdown percentage, while Denver has the top-ranked red-zone defense.
Both teams, though, will look to buck recent trends in Week 13. The Broncos allowed touchdowns on two of the Panthers' red-zone possessions in Week 12, while the Ravens have scored touchdowns on just three of their last nine red-zone possessions.
The Ravens have seen their point totals drop relatively significantly in recent weeks. In the first three games of the season, the Ravens averaged 33 points per game, and Jackson posted a 119.0 passer rating. Both metrics led the NFL, and Jackson also threw 10 touchdown passes in those three starts. Since then, the Ravens have averaged 22.0 points per game, and Jackson has thrown just seven touchdowns passes.
If Denver can find a way to limit the Ravens to field goals, that could be enough to give the Broncos a chance to pull off the road upset.
CAN RUSSELL WILSON, BRONCOS FIND SUCCESS IN THE PASSING GAME?
The Ravens enter this Week 13 matchup with one of the league's best rushing defenses, which means the Broncos may be better suited to find success through the air.
And if Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy — both listed as questionable — are able to play, they'll have their best complement of weapons since a Week 8 win over the Jaguars.
With Jeudy in the lineup, the Broncos have shown the ability to succeed in the passing game, but they'll need to be cautious against an opportunistic Ravens defense. The Ravens have forced the second-most takeaways in the NFL, posted the fifth-most sacks and have the league's longest takeaway streak after forcing a turnover in 13 consecutive games.
Denver has largely avoided turnovers, but the Broncos' third-down percentage ranks 30th. They'll face the league's second-best third-down defense in Baltimore, which means the Broncos must find a way to flip that script to have success.
Perhaps, though, the Broncos can capitalize after the Ravens gave up their second-highest point total of the season in Week 12 vs. Jacksonville. It's clear that against a potent offense, Denver will need to score points to keep pace.
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