Denver (2-2) at Baltimore (3-1)

By KATE HEDLIN, STATS Writer Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010 Kickoff: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Oct 10, 2010

The Baltimore Ravens made a statement with a big win against a division rival in their last game, aided by the emergence of quarterback Joe Flacco(notes) to complement their renowned defense.

That defense could be challenged Sunday when the AFC North leaders host the Denver Broncos and their prolific passing game led by Kyle Orton(notes).

As usual, Baltimore (3-1) boasts a dominant defense. The Ravens are allowing the fewest total yards per game (247.5) in the NFL, and have given up four offensive touchdowns through four contests.

They limited Pittsburgh to 210 yards in a 17-14 win at Heinz Field last Sunday, intercepting quarterback Charlie Batch(notes) on the Steelers’ final drive to seal the victory. Just prior to that play, Flacco threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes) with 32 seconds remaining to rally the Ravens.

“The first quarter of the season is over and to start at 3-1 is definitely a step in the right direction,” Flacco said.

Now in his third season, Flacco has played much better since throwing four interceptions in a 15-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 19. He’s thrown four touchdowns and one interception in his last two games, completing 67.6 percent of his passes after connecting on 48.1 percent in the first two contests.

“We’re going to ride with Joe,” linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) said. “Joe shouldn’t have to come back because (the defense) shouldn’t let him score. But for him to take that step last week, I just think it’s just a step for our team to go forward and start capitalizing the way we did.”

While Flacco is now playing well, the running game has been underachieving. With Ray Rice(notes) gaining 20 yards on eight carries while playing through a knee injury, Baltimore mustered 70 total yards on the ground as its average decreased to 84.3 per game. Last year’s Ravens averaged 137.5 rushing yards, led by Rice’s 1,339 yards.

Rice has yet to gain more than 87 or score a touchdown this season.

On the other side of the ball, Lewis and the Ravens will face a stiff challenge against Orton and the Broncos (2-2), who are averaging a league-high 354.8 passing yards. Orton threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 26-20 win at Tennessee on Sunday, completing 35 of 50 passes.

“The Broncos probably have, obviously, one of the most effective passing games in history through four games,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You get a lot of different stuff and they have a lot of different guys to go to.”

Orton, in his second year with Denver, is looking to sustain his success this time around. Last year he helped the Broncos open the season 6-0 while throwing nine touchdowns and one interception. That start came to a halt Nov. 1 in a 30-7 loss at Baltimore, when the Ravens limited Orton to 152 yards and no touchdown passes.

Denver would finish the season 8-8.

“We’re playing together, happy for one another when one has success,” said wide receiver Eddie Royal(notes), who had a touchdown and a season-high 113 yards receiving last week. “Kyle is doing a very good job of leading us.”

While Royal hauled in eight passes against the Titans, Brandon Lloyd(notes) continues to be Orton’s favorite target. Lloyd’s 113.5 receiving yards per game rank second in the NFL. He had a season-high 11 catches for 115 yards last weekend.

However, Denver’s offense continues to be one-dimensional. The Broncos have totaled 220 rushing yards this season, including a season-low 19 against the Titans, and are averaging 2.2 yards per carry.

“I think you can play some games and kind of lean more towards the passing game than the running game, but I think over the long haul if you play a season like that you’re going to ask for trouble down the road,” coach Josh McDaniels told the Broncos’ official website.

If Knowshon Moreno(notes) can return to action, the running game could get a lift. The second-year back, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Wednesday.

Trade acquisition Laurence Maroney(notes) has underwhelmed in Moreno’s absence. The former New England Patriot has totaled 29 yards on 23 carries for Denver.

Baltimore is 4-0 at home all-time against the Broncos, including a 21-3 wild-card victory in 2000. The Ravens have outscored Denver 111-39 in those four wins.

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