"Knowing is half the battle" - G.I. Joe
Week 1 brings an intriguing opponent for the Ravens. The Denver Broncos are a team with all of the pieces needed to succeed. A solid defense that won't lose games, good head coaching, and a prolific offense led by one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Yet the word success isn't one that has been associated with the team lately. The Broncos have proved to be a regular season juggernaut, but have fallen short in the playoffs each season ever since Peyton Manning came aboard. With Peyton's last year potentially looming, it's now or never for a team that was built around Manning to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. This year's conquest for the Lombardi starts off with a tough matchup against the Ravens. While on paper these two teams look fierce, there are a few mismatches on both sides. This week, I sat down with sadaraine of the Mile High Report to disuss these mismatches and each other's teams. It was an interesting and fruitful correspondence, and sadaraine was very amicable and knowledgeable about all things Broncos. Special thanks to him and all of the folks at the Mile High Report. I encourage you to check out their site to get a different perspective on this week's game.
Now on to the questions.
1.) Many are saying that the Broncos' OL is their weakness. Is this true, or is it simply being overblown?
We've gotten to see quite a bit of our two younger players (LT Ty Sambarailo and C Matt Paradis) in the preseason. Of the two, Ty is a rookie while impressive, seems the shakiest player on the line. He's looked good for a rookie though, and if the offense schemes help to him when needed, he'll do fine.
We did have a lot of questions at right tackle heading into the season, and without a good answer there signed Ryan Harris. He's a solid vet that has a history in this offense and has looked very good in the preseason as well.
The biggest thing working in Denver's favor this year for their offensive line is who they practice against. I like the pass rushing acumen of our defense more than anything else in the league outside of the Houston Texans. There isn't much if anything that Suggs and Doom have that Ware and Miller can't show our tackles.
2.) The Broncos suspect safety corps features former Raven Darian Stewart. Will this group be able to hold up against the notorious deep bomb of Joe Flacco?
You nailed my personal biggest question going into the season right here. You know Stewart far better than I do. I'm not a stats guy...I'm an eye test guy. No one in this short preseason tested Denver deep. Looking at Stewart when we signed him led me to think he was depth at Strong Safety more than a starting Free Safety.
If I'm the Ravens, I test the Broncos discipline deep early and often. We already know that Flacco has the arm for it, but we certainly don't know if Denver has the safeties that can defend it.
Denver has been without serious talent at free safety for years and every offseason I look for us to find an answer. We still have not and I am not sold that this personnel group has the goods.
3.) Is the installation of Gary Kubiak as Head Coach a welcome change? Will there be a new focus on the run this year with Kubiak at the helm?
It is a very welcome change. Many of us at MHR said when John Fox was hired that he was the right coach to right the ship, but he'd never sail it to the promised land. We saw that in the first couple years with Manning and it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt last year in the playoff game vs the Colts where it looked like in my opinion that Fox and company mailed it in.
Gary Kubiak is a great coach. Pairing him with the talent we have in Denver under the direction of John Elway could really be something special. Kubiak has been for a long time doing his best to make chicken dinner out of chicken spit and now he gets a chance to show what kind of coach he is when you give him great players to work with (please note this is talking about from a head coach perspective...he had great talent to work with as an OC at SF, Denver, and Baltimore).
As far as the focus on the run I don't know that I would call it that. I think Kubiak will focus on winning which is going to include a strong discipline and practice of our run plays and a balance of them to go along with a potent passing attack.
4.) Us Ravens fans have gotten used to Justin Tucker nailing every single kick. With the release of Connor Barth, do Broncos fans have any confidence in Brandon McManus?
We have a little bit based off his preseason play, but that doesn't go far. This is the same guy who last year we saw missing multiple kicks under 50 yards in the regular season, so I'm sure a lot of us will be holding our breath early this season. He's got a huge leg though and he's reworked his kicking technique this offseason. He looked like the real deal against the scrubs of preseason so we're hoping to see him mature and be a big time kicker moving forward.
5.) What are your expectations for this game? Score prediction?
I expect an excellent football game. It is going to be physical, powerful, and enjoyable to watch. Both quarterbacks are going to be getting the ball out quickly to avoid sacks and the running games will likely be key. I highly doubt we'll see 7 TD passes this time around as much as I loved it a couple of years ago. I think both teams are going to score in the 20s and Denver will win at home by 3.
Final Score: Denver 27 Baltimore 24.