But for now, in the word of Mills Lane and Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On!”
This week’s plotlines, Denver:
This one is obvious. Emotions are running wild on both sides of the ball, both cities, and both fan bases.
You have the obvious revenge factor for the Broncos. Say all you want about “this is a new season, a different team, just a game on the schedule, yada, yada, yada…” Denver wants revenge. They want to prove that last year’s postseason win by the Ravens was a fluke, and that they should have been the team marching on to New Orleans.
This is much like when Baltimore played New England early last season. All the hub-hub throughout that week was “new season, it is just week three, blah, blah, blah.” But if you watched NFL Network’s Sound Bites of the game, you heard Ray Lewis and many others talking on the sideline about getting revenge. Denver is in the same boat as last year’s Ravens, and Baltimore is the hunted.
The two cities—Baltimore and Denver
Well, you have the fact that the game is being played in Denver. The Super Bowl champion usually gets to host the first game. Well, we know how that played out—thank you Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, and the Major League Baseball Union. Bitterness in Baltimore.
Denver? They are fired up by some tiny banners hanging around their stadium and streets. I kid. If the roles were reversed, Baltimore would be going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Disdain in Denver.
Let’s face it; it’s personal on all accounts.
The New Peyton is the Old Peyton
There is one factor the Ravens better fully recognize: Peyton Manning is back. From all reports this spring and summer, Manning has the zip back on his throws. The wounded ducks we saw from Manning (and there were more than I have ever seen from him) last year are gone. He is a much different quarterback than the one the Ravens faced last January. If the Ravens were smart (and we know they are), they should have incorporated tape from the Manning of 2009 as they prepared for this game. Sure, scheme wise and personnel wise, last season’s tape (and possibly this preseason’s tape) is more valuable. But, to see the tight windows Manning worked the ball into, his downfield acumen, and his ability to throw across his body, tape from 2009 would be much more helpful. This year, I think Manning has a much better chance of completing the pass intended for Stokley that wound up in the arms of Corey Graham. The Ravens need to be on notice.
Broncos’ Unpredictable Pass Rush
With Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the field, the Ravens had a good idea where the pass rush was coming from in last year’s matchups. With Miller’s six-game suspension and Dumervil lining up against Peyton, the Broncos will have to rely more on scheme than personnel to generate a pass rush.
This unknown may actually work in the Broncos’ advantage—it may force the Broncos to be more creative, using exotic looks to confuse the Ravens’ pass protectors. For the most part, if you saw Miller and Dumervil lined up against you, you knew that they were most likely coming for the quarterback. The Broncos will use more stunts, crosses, delayed blitzes, and secondary pass rushers. The Ravens will need to be focused in calling out their protections.
Reformed Ravens Defense
This seemed like much more of a team strength until just recently. When Art Jones was ruled out and Brandon Williams was seen wearing a walking boot, all of a sudden a deep defensive line became a concern. The Ravens need to figure out their rotations along the line. Do they move Haloti Ngata back to the three technique and trot out Terrence Cody to the nose tackle attacking the A gap? Or do they keep Ngata at the nose tackle position and put Marcus Spears or DeAngelo Tyson on the outside?
The Broncos are onto their third center, so that needs to be taken into consideration. I think you keep Ngata inside and have him crash the middle, which will force the pocket to collapse and cause Manning to throw on the run—not his strength. He and Tom Brady are very similar in that regard. Get pressure up the middle, and they are not as effective. This means that Spears and Tyson can rotate on the outside, with Cody spelling Ngata at times. The Ravens could also go more to their creative package of a four-man front of Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, Courtney Upshaw, and Dumervil.
Obviously, the secondary faces a stiff test with Manning. They will need to have all communication signals ironed out as Manning audibles, “dummy” audibles, and jukes and jives at the line of scrimmage. Look for Lardarius Webb’s presence and leadership to have a positive impact on the secondary. However, this is a tall task for three or four new starters (Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo, Webb, and possibly rookie Matt Elam) in the secondary from last year’s playoff showdown.
All in all, this is quite a test for a still-evolving Raven defense—one that may take more time to gel.
The great unknown is the offense. How will the Ravens fare on third down? Will the offensive line establish the run game? Can the younger players be counted on in crucial situations? Can Dallas Clark emerge as a productive player within this offense? What new wrinkles has Jim Caldwell installed?
Basically, these are the same questions we have been asking all preseason. We get to see the Ravens’ answers to these questions (and maybe more) in earnest as the games now count. We may not like the initial results.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, each week I will pick a Raven that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (such as Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been the player of the game in last year’s playoff game in Denver?
This week I choose Daryl Smith. The dude has been spectacular this preseason, and I think his play will continue to be beyond solid. Look for him to patrol the middle of the field and help shutdown Denver’s run game. If he succeeds, that will allow the Ravens to utilize their wealth of depth on the edges. Smith’s play will prove to be another reason why Ozzie Newsome is one of the best in the game.