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Three Keys to Broncos-Ravens

BALTIMORE -- The 2018 Broncos already have two more fourth-quarter comebacks than last year's team did. Even though the last two editions of the Broncos have the same number of wins after two weeks -- both at home -- those two rallies represent the most dramatic evidence of the difference between this season and 2017.

Case Keenum's leadership provides an intangible -- and crucial -- reason behind the Broncos' clutch capability. But another is their league-pacing ability to move with big plays, rather than a series of small ones.

Last year, the Broncos averaged 6.1 explosive plays per game (runs of 15 or more yards and passes of 20 or more yards). This year, their average is up to 8.5 per game, which is tied for first with the Los Angeles Chargers. Two of those gains came on last week's game-winning drive to a 36-yard Brandon McManus field goal.

No wonder the offense steps onto the field filled with the belief that it can put together scoring drives in high-leverage situations.

"Every time we step on the field, we know we have the potential to go and score. We don't step on the field and say, 'Hey, let's go three-and-out right here,' or 'Hey, we're going to kick a field goal,'" wide receiver Courtland Sutton said.

"We step on the field as an offense and say, 'We're going to go put six [points] on the board right now.' We have the weapons to do that in every aspect of our offense ... and that's one thing we see in the offense as a whole."

What are the keys to the Broncos extending their strong start to the season Sunday in Baltimore?

Stay balanced on offense

As one of two teams with at least 12 completions of 20 or more yards and three runs of 15 or more yards, the Broncos' balance extends to their ability to generate yardage in big chunks, rather than small bites.

As a result, the Broncos' last two weeks saw them extend their streak of wins in games when they ran for at least 140 yards and passed for at least 200 to 21. Their last loss when hitting those two mileposts came on Oct. 17, 2010 to the New York Jets.

"We have so many weapons, in the running game and the passing game," Sutton said. "And we go hand-in-hand off each other. When we're running the ball really well, we're passing the ball really well."

If the Broncos' balance allows them to consume yardage in gulps rather than sips, they can replicate the success that Cincinnati had against Baltimore's defense last week.

Don't let Baltimore establish the run

In the past five seasons, the Ravens have run for 10 or more first downs eight times, including 11 rushing first downs in their Week 1 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore is 7-1 in these games, with two of the wins coming in their last five regular-season contests.

During that same span, the Broncos have allowed at least 10 rushing first downs just four times -- three of which came during the 2016 season. They lost all three times. Denver hasn't allowed double-digit rushing first downs since Dec. 25, 2016 at Kansas City.

The Broncos come into the game leading the league with just four rushing first downs allowed. Their rate of one first down allowed every 10.8 carries also paces the NFL. If they maintain this, they can force Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to fire deep, keeping him in the pocket longer, which will allow Denver's edge rushers to impact the game as they did in Week 1 against Seattle.

Don't be burdened by recent history

Denver is 1-9 in its last 10 road games, including four losses in games played at 1 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone. This is the Broncos' worst road stretch since they lost 11 of 12 road games from December 2009 through October 2011.

Reversing that skid means winning in a stadium in which the Broncos are 1-5, including the postseason. Denver's only win over the Ravens in Baltimore came in 2012, when a second-quarter surge capped by a 98-yard Chris Harris Jr. interception for a touchdown silenced a crowd that is usually among the league's most raucous.

Keenum should help the Broncos' chances in that daunting environment. Last year, the Vikings won five of seven regular-season road games started by the unflappable Keenum, including five of the last six after a Week 2 defeat at Pittsburgh.

The key to success? Don't think about the history or the fans. Just play your game.

"Yeah, the crowd's going to be loud, or, yeah, we're going to have to change some things with how we communicate offensively," Sutton said. "But we're playing the game, and if you know the game plan and you go and execute it, there shouldn't be any worry of, 'Oh, we're playing on the road; they're going to be loud.'

"You shouldn't have to worry about those things because you're able to play fast when you know what you're supposed to be doing."

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