By Jim McBride
By Jim McBride
Globe staffRavens on offense: Ray Rice still is a highly productive and competitive player, but the 5-foot-8-inch, 212-pound pinball tailback no longer has to carry this offense. Rice is a compact, muscular man (have you seen those biceps?) with excellent vision and instincts. He darts through holes like a waterbug and will take on defenders twice his size. Bernard Pierce (6-0, 218) is a rugged, versatile runner who can bang inside and also turn the corner and go. Towering quarterback Joe “Cool” Flacco is coming off a solid game against the Colts but was helped out immensely by receiver Anquan Boldin. Flacco has a strong arm, and when he gets into a groove early, he will make plays all day. When rattled early, he packs his bags. Boldin was terrific last week. The big, strong receiver will fight for every ball and has tremendous body control; he will adjust to Flacco’s poorly thrown offerings. Receiver Torrey Smith has awesome speed and is an underrated downfield blocker.
Broncos on defense: There are lots of stars here, including Von Miller (18½ sacks), Elvis Dumervil (11½ sacks), Wesley Woodyard (117 tackles), and ageless cornerback Champ Bailey (66 tackles, 2 interceptions).
Broncos on offense: So this guy named Peyton Manning is at the controls for this unit. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He has won four MVPs and a Super Bowl and drives a Buick Verano? Yeah, that’s him. Manning has come back with a vengeance this season, throwing for 4,659 yards and 37 TDs. Eli’s big brother has off-the-charts football intelligence and tremendous pre-snap recognition; the play called in the huddle is often not the play that is executed. Manning’s passes don’t have the classic NFL spiral but they always end up in the right spot. Receivers Demaryius Thomas (he’s big and speedy) and Eric Decker (he has strong hands) have really flourished with Manning. Slot receiver Brandon Stokley is sneaky quick. He’s tough, but he has taken lots of big hits. Tailback Knowshown Moreno is occasionally explosive.
Ravens on defense: There are plenty of well-known dudes to be leery of on this unit, but one of the lesser-known might have the biggest impact: Linebacker Paul Kruger (he’s tough to block) will come after Manning. Hard. Ray Lewis is Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is Ed Reed. They’re incomparable and will make plays everywhere. Terrell Suggs looked a little slow vs. the Colts.
Special teams: The Broncos have a nifty little weapon in the return game — with the emphasis on little. Trindon Holliday (all 5-5, 169 pounds of him) has excellent vision and moves. He averaged 32.5 yards per kick return (including a 105-yard TD) and 10.8 on punt returns (including a 76-yard TD). Matt Prater was 26 of 32 on field goals with a long of 55 yards. Britton Colquitt averaged 46.3 yards per punt. Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones is a legitimate threat in the return game as well, with a 107-yard kickoff TD and a 63-yard punt return TD. Justin Tucker was 30 of 33 on field goals and Sam Koch averages 47.1 yards per punt.
Miscellany: Broncos are 13-3 at home in the playoffs . . . Ravens are 7-5 on the road in the postseason . . . Lewis has played in 18 postseason games . . . Reed has 8 picks in the playoffs . . . Manning has thrown for 5,389 yards in the playoffs (third most all time) . . . Ravens coach John Harbaugh reportedly cracked a smile with one second left in win over Colts . . . Both Harbaugh and Denver’s John Fox are 6-4 in postseason . . . Moreno is averaging nearly 111 yards from scrimmage in his last six starts.