Thursday Night Match-Up: Baltimore @ Denver
Only a few days until the NFL season kicks off with a re-match of the AFC Divisional playoffs as the Ravens travel to Denver. There are several intriguing story-lines that highlight this one from the Mile High Miracle to Elvis switching uniforms due to a fax snafu to billboard graffiti. (I can only imagine what Ravens fans would have done if the roles were reversed.)
Here are a just a few of the key match-ups heading into the season opener for the defending World champions.
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Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning vs. Ravens Inside Linebacker Daryl Smith
Peyton Manning is one of the most prepared signal callers in the history of the game. He loves to change plays at the line of scrimmage and in general confuse the opposition. He’s coming off one of his best seasons and appears totally recovered from the neck issues that plagued him two seasons ago. At 37 he’ll continue to rely on his knowledge of reading defenses and outhinking the opposing coordinator to gain the advantage.
Last season Ray Lewis manned the middle and used his savy to enage Manning in a battle of footbal wits. Physically Lewis and Danell Ellerbee were exposed on underneath coverage repeatedly. With Lewis’ departure the Ravens now turn to another vet in former Jaguar Daryl Smith. Smith has proven to be a capable back-up in Pre-Season and from almost the start was comfortable running the defense even with a new group. Smith and rookie Arthur Brown should be able to provide a stiffer test in pass coverage. Defensive communication will be key against Manning and with so many new faces in this group it has to be at least a bit of a concern.
Ravens Wide Receiver Torrey Smith vs. Broncos Cornerback Champ Bailey
Smith absolutely torched Bailey in their last meeting in the AFC Playoffs (3-98-2 TDs) as he beat him for two key scores. Bailey is listed as a game-time decision due to a sprained foot and no doubt he’s had the entire off-season to think about how Smith burned him. You have to expect Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to dial up at least two or three shots downfield to Smith if he gets one on one coverage.
Broncos Receivers (Thomas,Decker,Welker) vs. Ravens Corners (Graham, Smith, Webb)
Welker joins a formidable stable of pass catchers for Manning to target. During their first meeting in Baltimore in the regular season Eric Decker had a huge day with 133 yds. receiving. While matchup nightmare Demaryius Thomas continues to improve, he’s probably Manning’s most trusted weapon. That leaves the Baltimore corners up for a huge challenge as returning Lardarius Webb will most likely draw the slot assignment against Welker. Corey Graham also comes off of success against Manning as he registered two picks against him in the playoffs. That leaves Jimmy Smith as a question mark – Will he rise to the challenge Thursday night? These receivers will get their catches they’ll just need to keep them out of the endzone.
Ravens Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie vs. Broncos Outside Linebacker Shaun Phillips
Denver had one of the most ferocious tag team of pass rushers in the league in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil last season. Now Miller is suspended for six games and Doom now resides in Charm City but that doesn’t mean that the Bronco blitz will be impotent. Phillips is a nine-year vet from San Diego who is expected theoretically to replace Miller in the lineup as a pass rusher.
The roller coaster ride called Mt. McKinnie continued as expected this off-season. After a dazzling playoff run the Ravens chose to re-sign him to a two-year deal worth around $7 million. After good reports during mini-camp there were once again concerns about his weight at the start of camp. When McKinnie is motivated and healthy he is a more than serviceable NFL Left Tackle, so now that the season is about to begin will McKinnie be able to translate last season’s four game excellence over sixteen games in the 2013 regular season. It’s one of the Ravens biggest questions this season.
Broncos Center Manny Ramirez vs. Ravens Inside Tackle Haloti Ngata
Ramirez, a Guard who has been forced into the Center position due to injuries has never started a game at the position. He’ll get his first action against a now fully healthy Haloti Ngata who has been moved back on the inside where he is most comfortable.
This should be a pivotal battle that the Ravens appear to have the advantage in at least on paper. If Ngata can provide pressure up the middle to slow the Denver running attack and help disrupt Manning in the pass game it will benefit Baltimore greatly in opening the season on a winning note.