This Sunday two possible play-off teams, and a possible play-off match-up will be battling it out when the Baltimore Ravens go and play against the Denver Broncos. The last time this match-up happened two seasons ago on week one Peyton Manning went off dropping seven touchdowns on Baltimore, but the Ravens don't have the Super Bowl hangover, and the Broncos aren't as well equipped on the offensive side of the ball as they were that season. Nonetheless these teams will easily be fighting for a play-off spot and getting off on the right foot is necessary to home field advantage. The important question for this article is simple, "How does Baltimore stack up against the Broncos defense?"
First and foremost this is going to be tough as the only ratings really out there are rough estimates and pre-season numbers. Both are not perfect, in fact both are misleading almost. Ravens could easily take a step back in running, passing, or Flacco turning into a derp and throwing hand-outs to Denvers' defense. The same goes for Denver as maybe Aqib Talib no longer can move and position himself where he needs to be anymore. Every team will have changed. Players have left since last season, and been signed. Every player is a year older. This is only a rough estimate on my own personal projections.
I try to keep the homer shades off and simply look at the skills and numbers for players. The strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully this all works.
Offensive Line V D-line & Pass Rush
Baltimore's line during the pre-season had no problems walking over the Saints, pre-week 1. Flacco and company simply trudged down the field and scored without problems at all. In pre-week 2 & 3 nothing special for or against the line. Pre-week 4 none of the starters played meaning I can't judge them. So from what I have seen the Ravens offensive line is looking just fine. All five starters on the line have returned and the chemistry is still around. The Ravens offensive line was ranked #2 behind Dallas last year, and if this continues it's great news for the Ravens.
That doesn't mean superstar edge combo Demarcus Ware & Von Miller aren't going to wreak havoc, because they will. Von Miller is one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL at this point and pairing him with Ware is a huge combination for success. Joe will be in the turf at least twice during the game, unless Rick Wagner has progressed even further than my hopes grown this off-season.
With the loss of Terrence Knighton this off-season expect the run defense to take a big hit. Sylvester Williams has filled in nicely, but there is only so much skill to add in a single offseason to make up for the loss of "Pot Roast". This may be key with the run game, or pass attack not needing to double team Williams to the extent necessary for Knighton.
Eugene Monroe, the worry of my mind right now for Baltimore's line. He only played in two pre-games and he did well. Nothing worth excitement, and nothing to truly worry about, but this is Demarcus Ware week one. Something I see becoming a problem. This I believe will be key for Denver's success. Healthy and rested Ware tearing apart Monroe.
Wide Receivers V Cornerbacks
Chris Harris Jr. & Aqib Talib against Steve Smith Sr. and... Kamar Aiken? Yuck. I see Denver with a clear advantage here. If Breshad Perriman is healthy this is a much different scenario as Perriman's speed is blazing. The match-up nightmare for Breshad is being a speed demon, but also being a big body. Harris isn't big enough to cover Perriman, and Aqib isn't fast enough. Unfortunately when Harbaugh has said Breshad might play, I haven't seen a single mark of this being true. He said Breshad had a bone bruise his second practice and yet we didn't see him a single pre-game or most of practice so far because of a PCL strain.
Kamar has the big body to out-muscle Harris Jr., but that won't be the case often. The match-up if Denver is scheming correctly is to keep Chris against Smith Sr. with both being smaller players. (CHJ: 5'10" SSSr: 5'9") This leaves Aqib Talib to bully the young expected star Kamar with his match-up in size. (AT: 6'1" 205 KA: 6'2" 213) These corners will be giving Flacco fits as the coverage can run man with an extra person on the blitz.
The best match-up (size and assumption) is at WR3 against CB3. Marlon Brown is the big man standing tall at 6'4" and 214 pounds. He has the hands to snag 50 yard tosses from Schaub, and the big man ability to go up and grab the football. The next two cornerbacks on the roster are either Kayvon Webster or Bradley Roby both 5'11" and under 200 lbs. Hopefully the Ravens exploit this, and Marlon steps the hell up to take charge, otherwise the passing game could be snuffed, and going one dimensional against the Broncos will be ugly.
Tight Ends V Linebackers
Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams are proving to be much more than originally thought. Gillmore has shown his man strength blowing up three tacklers on his way to the end-zone and Madd Maxx has taken flight, completing a 4th and 20 by hurdling a defender and body slaming a second on his way for a 21 yard gain. This tight end corps could be the group bailing out Joe along with Justin Forsett on checkdowns. Brandon Marshall has other ideas though with his coverage talents shining before the knee injury. Maybe Marshall lost speed or agility, but nothing is for certain and coming in with the expectations a player isn't going to play well is never a good idea. Gillmore has the clear advantage at 6'6" and 256 lbs. Marshall being 6'1" and 240 could be bullied, and playing press coverage won't work on Crockett, his body too big to shove around. Miller can also play coverage, but I don't think they sacrifice his athletecism frequently to cover instead of playing closer to the run and pass rush.
Baltimore's Offensive Line V Denver's Defensive Line: Even, too close to call
Baltimore's Receivers V Denver's Cornerbacks: Clear Advantage Denver
Baltimore's Tight Ends V Denver's Linebackers: Advantage Baltimore
I have Denver winning this battle in the numbers game, and with this being week 1 I can't give a lot of insight from other expectations. These are rough estimates, and tough ones as both teams look poised for a possible championship run this year. A great game I expect from both squads.