Today is the first day of the regular season for the Baltimore Ravens, and it could not come fast enough. As the Raven’s take on the Denver Broncos tonight, their new secondary will be immediately put to the test versus Peyton Manning and the hurry up offense.
The strength of Denver’s offense comes in its fast pace and versatile passing game. They have Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker at their two wide outs, both of who have impressive speed to stretch the field, but complement that with impressive hands, route running, and toughness (especially Decker.) Both are fearless when going through the middle of a defense, which only makes them more dangerous.
What makes this receiving core especially dynamic, however, is the addition of Wes Welker this offseason. Welker, the slot man extraordinaire from New England, has had well over 100 receptions in five of his six seasons with Tom Brady (he was on pace for over 100 in 2010, but his season was cut short by injury.)
And the men responsible for slowing down these three wide receivers? Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, and Chykie Brown. All four of these cornerbacks have real game experience, but it is of note that they are the only cornerbacks on the Ravens roster. Usually, teams carry 5-6 cornerbacks, but the Ravens are only carrying a these very capable four. Typically, the farther down the depth chart a player is, the more is expected from him in special teams. With all four of these players set for playing time, it may be risky not to carry more cornerbacks.
The Ravens still have great flexibility, even with these limited numbers. Two undrafted free agent safeties Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick both won roster spots for the start of the season for their special teams prowess. The fact that these players made the team over previous fan favorites and special teams standouts such as Anthony Allen, LaQuan Williams, Bobby Rainey, and Omar Brown only heightens expectations for them. With these two safeties and a plethora of young receivers, do not expect much special teams play from our current cornerbacks tonight.
Rounding out the safety positions are veteran James Ihedigbo, newly acquired Michael Huff, and first round pick Matt Elam. All three of these players are extremely versatile, as each can play both free and strong safety. This is a far cry from the days of Ed Reed roaming the middle of the field with Bernard Pollard hovering around the box. Ihedigbo has always been solid, but never a real difference maker. Huff, a former seventh overall pick by the Oakland Raiders, played cornerback last year and can line up all over the field. It is worth noting that the former Raider had a preseason to forget this year, which hopefully will not impact him tonight. Matt Elam is a fiery 5’10" player known for his game changing hits and explosive plays, which he flashed during the preseason.
These three men will be tasked with keeping the Broncos tight ends in check, as Peyton Manning is notorious for his love of these big, versatile receivers (see Clark, Dallas). The Broncos have one of the more talented tight end groups with third year man Julius Thomas, sure handed Joel Dreesen, and former Colt Jacob Tamme.
Expect to see Lardarius Webb covering Welker in the slot tonight, Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith matched up against Thomas and Decker, Chykie Brown coming in in passing situations, and Ihedigbo, Huff, and Elam all rotating in at safety. Tonight will be the ultimate test for what should be a very good secondary.