ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Though the first thing about the Baltimore Ravens that comes to mind for a lot of fans is the team's defense, it's the team's offense that has shined in Baltimore's 9-4 start.
With the 2012 Ravens, it has been apparent since opening day, when the offense exploded for 44 points, that the franchise's days of depending on low-scoring victories are a thing of the past.
In addition to a passing game that has proven potent, the Ravens also boast one of the league's top running backs in Ray Rice. Rice finished 2011 second in the league in rushing yards, and though he has gotten fewer touches this season, his yards per carry average of 4.6 shows no drop-off in productivity.
"Now they've got a great quarterback (and a) great running back, but for years it was really all about the defense," defensive tackle Justin Bannan said.
What makes Rice as dangerous as any back in the league is his ability to threaten defenses as both a runner and a receiver. He already has two seasons under his belt with at least 70 catches, and has hauled in 52 passes through the first 13 games of this year.
In case his elusiveness coming out of the backfield wasn't already clear, Rice provided a memorable example of what he can do as a receiver in Week 14 against San Diego, when he converted a fourth-and-29 with a short catch-and-run in a game his team eventually won in overtime. Rice's skill set has the full attention of the Denver's defense.
"He's definitely what is advertised," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "He does a lot of good things so we've got to rat-pack him. We've got to make sure we get after him. It's kind of similar to (Tampa Bay running back) Doug Martin. He can catch out of the backfield, make guys miss, so we've got to make sure when we come around him, it's a group of guys."
But while the Broncos are intent on getting bodies to the football on running plays, they're well aware that Baltimore is capable of beating them deep if they overcommit at the line of scrimmage.
"You've got to stop (Rice), and you've got to stop (Ravens quarterback Joe) Flacco and his arm," Bannan said. "He's got one of the best arms in the NFL, and if you give him time, he'll pick you apart. He'll throw it over your head, and there's nowhere he can't put the ball on the field. They've got a lot of threats there, and we've just got to come out and play our all-around game."
One of Flacco's top targets is wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose speed makes him a threat to go the distance at any given time. Smith is currently averaging 17.5 yards per catch, the third-best mark in the NFL.
"Flacco, he's been a little streaky, but he's got as strong an arm as anyone," safety Jim Leonhard said. "They like to take shots downfield, and if you let him throw the ball over your head, you're in for a long day."
Opposite Smith is veteran wideout Anquan Boldin, who has eight receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks.
Baltimore has scored more than 30 points four times this season, including a pair of 40-plus point outings. Each of those offensive outputs have come in home games, where Flacco has thrown 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions for a passer rating of 100.7. Baltimore currently ranks ninth in the league in scoring, largely due to stellar play at M&T Bank Stadium, where the team's 34.0 points per game is the second-highest total in the NFL. In home games, the Ravens are also third in passing yards per game with 296 and second in rushing touchdowns, with 10.
"It's a great challenge," linebacker Von Miller said. "They are a great team. I think we're up for the challenge. This is the type of team that we're going to have to play in the playoffs. It's the type of team that has been very successful in the past. They missed out on the Super Bowl trip last year by three points, missed a field goal, and a guy even dropped a touchdown the play before that. They should have been in the Super Bowl last year. They are definitely contenders this year. This is the type of team we have to play to gage ourselves and see what type of team they are."