Happy Game Day (again), friends. Our loyal reader BRASO called us out in an email for being a bit light on the content lately (sorry about that), so we’re stepping it up. We don't want our readers having to resort to visiting lesser Broncos sites in the absence of content from us.
As in past years, I plan to do an opposition research article each week about the team the Broncos will play. This week, it’s the Ravens.
This is a hard task for the opener, because there’s no regular season film to watch. I did get to see the Ravens’ starters some in the preseason, though, and that combined with things that I think I know from observations of last year’s NFL season will have to suffice. Let’s break down the Super Bowl champions. *vomits*
The Ravens offense really evolved last season, and it looked good when it played a lot of no-huddle early on. For some reason, they got away from it, and their offense got really disjointed as the season went on. Eventually, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got whacked (he’s now at LSU as their OC), and Jim Caldwell got elevated to the position. Caldwell made some schematic changes, and the Ravens improved a lot.
Well, the schematic changes were part of the story. An arguably bigger part of the story was that the perennially overweight underachiever Bryant McKinnie finally was inserted at left tackle, which allowed the Ravens to move Michael Oher from left tackle to right tackle, and Keleche Osemele from right tackle to left guard. That also moved the likes of Jah Reid and Bobbie Williams to the bench.
On the offensive line, one move can strengthen multiple positions, and that’s what happened. McKinnie played well at LT, Oher is much better on the right side (this was already well-known), and Osemele settled in nicely at LG. The offensive line was the biggest difference between the Ravens team the Broncos trounced in Baltimore in Week 15, and the one that came to SAF@MH ready to compete in January.
Joe Flacco had an excellent postseason, and I see him as a good QB, but I think he’s kind of Eli Manning good. Flacco’s attributes shine through a lot of the time, and you’d rather have him than a lot of other guys, but I think he’ll always show some inconsistency and leave you wanting more.
The biggest reason I foresee a modest decline for the Ravens in 2013 is their receiving corps. Torrey Smith is a dangerous field-stretcher (as we know all too well) but he’s a limited player. I’ll be surprised if he’s ever productive inside the numbers, and I consider him just to be a 9-route and comeback guy.
The arch-nemesis Jacoby Jones is similar to Smith, in that his speed scares you as a 9-route guy, but that he lacks route-running polish and natural receiving skills. Old friend Brandon Stokley is still a solid slot guy, but he is very dissimilar to Anquan Boldin, who Flacco is used to working with inside.
The loss of Dennis Pitta was gigantic for the Ravens, because he was good enough to occupy a safety, which helps to open up the deep stuff outside. Ed Dickson isn’t nearly as good as Pitta, and I question the extent to which the Ravens are going to be able to attack defenses inside the numbers. Dallas Clark looked washed-up to me last season in Tampa. Both of these guys can be handled man-to-man by the Broncos’ linebackers.
RB Ray Rice is an excellent player at his position, and he’s a threat both as a runner and a receiver. He’s not really a gamebreaker, though, and if the Broncos can do a credible job with their run defense up front, I don’t think we have too much to fear from him. Backup Bernard Pierce is just a guy.
Most people who think that the Ravens are going to take a step back are missing the significant changes on offense, and they’re worrying about the defense. I think they’re getting it wrong, and that the Ravens (at least eventually) will be better on defense in 2013 than they were in 2012.
Baltimore did lose some big names (and some smaller-name starters who got paid) in Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, and Dannell Ellerbe, but I think they did a good job of replacing them.
First things first, I think the Ravens are a lot better on the defensive line than they were last season. For one thing, Haloti Ngata is healthy this season after playing hurt a lot in 2012. For another, their acquisitions of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears really improve them as well. Canty, especially, is an interesting guy who can two-gap the run game on one play, and then penetrate and rush the passer to the inside on the next.
After losing both of their starting ILBs (Lewis and Ellerbe), the Ravens promoted Jameel McClain (a pretty good player) and signed Daryl Smith (an excellent player, when healthy). They also drafted Arthur Brown, allegedly at the expense of the Broncos, but he’s currently listed as a third-stringer.
On the outside, Terrell Suggs returns, and he remains a very formidable pass rusher. In the Sam OLB spot, old friend Elvis Dumervil is nominally the starter, but I look for him to split time with Courtney Upshaw. Dumervil is a pass rusher who lacks the ability to anchor very well against the run. Upshaw is a stout run defender who lacks much burst as a pass rusher. (I told you that before he ever played a game in the NFL.)
If the Ravens are smart, they’ll limit Dumervil to passing downs, and let Upshaw (the second coming of Mario Haggan) be out there to set the edge against the run. We’ll see how much pride and high salary keep Elvis on the field in sub-optimal situations.
Another big addition for the Ravens is the return of Lardarius Webb at corner. He’s easily the best guy they have outside, and he’s an upgrade from the departed Cary Williams. Corey Graham is the starter on the other side, and his interception in double-overtime notwithstanding, he’s just average. The third CB Jimmy Smith has talent, but has failed to ever consistently convert it to production.
At safety, the Ravens signed Michael Huff, whose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I like his ability to cover in the passing game, but he’s been part of a lot of losing and a lot of team defensive breakdowns over the years in Oakland. Rookie Matt Elam is presently listed as the backup to James Ihedigbo, but I expect that that won’t be the case for long. Elam is extremely active, and he has a way of finding the ball and tackling the guy who has it.
Jacoby Jones is a dangerous return guy who might lose some effectiveness in the return game by playing a lot at WR. Justin Tucker is an excellent kicker, and Sam Koch had an excellent season as the punter in 2012.
The Bottom Line
I doubt that the Ravens are going to be able to hang with the Broncos offensively tonight. If they do, it will be because they got their running game blocked, and because Ray Rice helped them move the chains, and stay in reasonable-yardage situations.
As much as I think the Ravens defense is going to be pretty good this year, I don’t think they’ll look like it tonight. Peyton Manning is pretty good at neutralizing pass rushers, and I really doubt that the Ravens can cover all of the Broncos’ receiving threats.
Put me down for 34-24 Broncos tonight.