NFL

Ravens offense set to provide stern test of Denver's credentials

By Sports Desk October 01, 2021

The Denver Broncos are one of five remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL, with much of their success built on the efforts of a defense that is among the most efficient in the league through three weeks.

Denver's defense ranks second in the NFL by yards per play allowed, having given up an average of 4.10 so far this campaign.

That statistic comes with the substantial caveat that the three teams the Broncos have faced in 2021, the New York Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets are a combined 0-10 on the season.

In Week 4, the Broncos will face by far their most difficult test of the season when they welcome the Baltimore Ravens to Mile High.

That may be a bemusing sentence to read in the context of the Ravens' last effort, which saw them score only 19 points and require a last-second record-breaking 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker that bounced off the crossbar to beat the winless Detroit Lions.

Yet the Ravens have both a quarterback and a group of pass-catchers to stress the Broncos in ways they have yet to experience in 2021.

The Ravens' pass-catchers are coming off perhaps their most unconvincing performance of the season, one defined by a series of big-time drops from Marquise Brown.

However, in what has been a rollercoaster start to the year for Baltimore, their receiving weapons have excelled when it comes to creating separation.

Open on 91.3 per cent of his targets, the seventh-highest percentage of receivers with at least 10 targets, Brown appears to be a receiver on the verge of a third-year leap if he can become more consistent catching the football.

Brown has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, on 78.3 per cent of his targets. His burn yards per target average of 19.67 is the highest in the NFL among wideouts thrown at 10 times, while his big-play percentage of 54.3 is third.

With an average depth of target of 15.6 yards, Brown is getting open on downfield routes where separation can be harder to come by, while tight end Mark Andrews leads all players at his position with at least 10 targets in burn percentage (88.2) and burn yards per target (16.18).

The Ravens' offense is also receiving a boost in the form of rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman, who was activated from injured reserve this week. If he can reprise his form of 2019 – his last full college season – that saw him finish fourth in big-play percentage among Power 5 receivers with at least 25 targets, producing one 50.4 per cent of the time, Baltimore could have one of the most dangerous pass-catching tridents in the NFL.

In terms of defensive opponent, the Broncos represent a significant step up for Baltimore. Denver (4.31) rank first in yards per pass play allowed with the Las Vegas Raiders (5.60 - 8th) the only opponent the Ravens have faced in the top 10 to this point. The Lions (8.79) and Kansas City Chiefs (8.43) are each in the bottom three.

Of the four Denver cornerbacks to face at least 10 coverage matchups, none have allowed an open percentage above 30 per cent, with Kyle Fuller (29.79), Patrick Surtain II (28.57), Bryce Callahan (11.76) and Ronald Darby (17.65) all enjoying strong starts to the campaign.

The Broncos' ability to deal with the running threat of Lamar Jackson could be just as important as the matchup between their secondary and the Ravens' pass-catchers.

Jackson is delivering an accurate well-thrown ball on 74.1 per cent of his passes, below the NFL average of 78.9. That underwhelming accuracy is, however, partially a product of his aggressiveness — his air yards per attempt average of 12.28 is by far the highest in the NFL — and the diversity his skills as a runner bring to the Ravens' run game could prove the ideal tonic to a Broncos defense that frequently employs two deep safeties to protect against the pass.

There is no doubt that Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, one of the best defensive minds in the game, will have prepared his players for the threat of Jackson. Still, Jackson has a habit of making even the most well-equipped teams look foolish. Should the Broncos avoid that fate, then they will deserve to be taken seriously as contenders in the AFC.

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    After all, he has already won 22 trophies across a managerial career spanning 27 years that has seen him coach 10 different clubs in five different countries. Indeed, he this month became the first coach to win each of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and LaLiga.

    There is no questioning Carlo's credentials, then, but victory against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in Paris really would take the 62-year-old into 'GOAT' territory as the outright most successful coach in terms of major European honours.

    Ancelotti is currently level with Alex Ferguson and Giovanni Trapattoni in that regard with seven UEFA club competition triumphs – three Champions Leagues, three Super Cups and one Intertoto Cup, a much-derided competition that is now defunct.

    Many would suggest a better barometer of determining the true Greatest of All Time would be to simply look at how many Champions Leagues or European Cups, as it was formerly known, a manager has won. In that case, Ancelotti is level with Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane with three apiece.

    Triumphing for a fourth time in UEFA's showpiece competition, having previously done so with Milan in 2003 and 2007, and Madrid in 2014, would therefore set Ancelotti apart from the rest.

    The hugely experienced coach has a great record when it comes to Champions League finals, too, with victories in three of his previous four such matches. The only exception to that? In 2004-05 when Liverpool famously beat Milan on penalties in a game they trailed 3-0 at half-time.

    CARLO'S CUP PEDIGREE

    The glitz and glamour of a Champions League final was far from Klopp's mind in that campaign when in his fourth season in charge of Mainz. The 2004-05 season was just as memorable for the German club's supporters as Liverpool's, though, as they finished 11th in what was their first top-flight campaign.

    Seventeen years on, Klopp now has a shot at becoming one of 17 multiple-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League, level with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and even Manchester United great Ferguson.

    He went all the way with Liverpool in 2019, triumphing over domestic rivals Tottenham, but his previous two finals in the competition ended in disappointment, with defeat against Bayern Munich as Dortmund boss in 2013 and against Zidane's Madrid as Liverpool manager in 2018.

    Zidane may have been replaced by Ancelotti in the Madrid dugout, but this weekend presents Klopp – and indeed Liverpool – with a shot at redemption. Having won two trophies already with the Reds this season, Klopp's cup final record looks a lot better than it did just a few months ago.

    He has now won eight of his 18 finals, which compares to 16 victories from 22 finals for Ancelotti across all competitions. In percentage terms, Klopp has won 44 per cent of finals he has contested, while Ancelotti has won 73 per cent.

    A FAMILIAR FOE AWAITS

    Ancelotti and Klopp are no strangers to one another, of course, with Saturday's showdown set to be their 11th meeting in all competitions. Ancelotti edges the overall record from the previous 10 encounters with four wins to Klopp's three.

    Despite managing an Everton side far inferior to Klopp's Liverpool, Ancelotti lost just one of his three Merseyside derbies during his season-and-a-half in charge of the Toffees.

    That includes three successive games without defeat, culminating in a 2-0 win in February 2021 – Everton's first Anfield victory since 1999 and their first win either home or away over Liverpool since 2010.

    Ancelotti certainly had Klopp's number in the most recent of their battles, although the results of his two finals against English clubs in European competition have been mixed – the aforementioned shoot-out loss in 2005 and a 2-1 win two years later, both during his time with Milan and both against Liverpool.

    The Italian has certainly stood the test of time, with his 70 per cent win rate in his second stint with Madrid bettered only by the 75 per cent enjoyed the first time around in the Spanish capital, and now a shot at history – a fourth Champions League and an eighth European trophy – awaits.

    Against a familiar opponent in both Liverpool and Klopp, and in a city where he helped grow Paris Saint-Germain into a force to be reckoned with just over a decade ago, the stage is set for Ancelotti to further strengthen his claim as being the greatest of them all.

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    The 'King of Clay' is in search of a record-extending 22nd major title at Roland Garros, where he was dethroned by Novak Djokovic last year.

    On this evidence, Nadal is in the form to re-establish his dominion of the tournament, overcoming a spirited home hope, who enjoyed the benefit of vocal support from the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Wednesday evening.

    Nadal will see room for improvement having failed to serve the match out in the third set, but a 6-3 6-1 6-4 win was never in doubt.

    The tone for a procession was established when Nadal raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set, and Moutet's dream of playing his idol soon appeared to be turning into a nightmare.

    Nadal won the second set in commanding fashion behind an excellent first serve, but found Moutet's resistance more stern in the third.

    That spirit was exemplified by Moutet breaking Nadal's serve with the Spaniard ahead 5-3. However, Nadal immediately responded in kind, dominating Moutet from the back of the court and wrapping up a landmark victory when the Frenchman sent a lob long at the end of an entertaining rally.

    Nadal will face Botic Van De Zandschulp in the third round.

     

    Data Slam: Nadal 107-3 opponents

    As well as being his 300th grand slam match win, Nadal's triumph was his 107th at Roland Garros. He has still only tasted defeat in Paris three times. The fifth seed won all 11 of his first-serve points in the second set of another impressive display.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Nadal – 27/22
    Moutet – 16/24

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Nadal – 1/2
    Moutet – 0/3

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Nadal – 7/12
    Moutet – 2/4

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