In 2009, the Baltimore Ravens welcomed Denver to their fair city and beat the living bejabbers out of them. Denver was coming off their bye week, and they had taken the time to rest. Some fans thought that this showed a lack of discipline on the part of the coaches and players. What those fans didn’t know was that it really indicated a lack of depth on the team - the starters were simply worn out, and this wasn’t a team that had enough talent to let the rotational players spend too much time on the field. The final outcome - losing 8 of their last 10 games - started that fine autumn afternoon, and it rarely got any better. But, what’s changed since then?
A couple of years back, Matt Prater was a ‘maybe’ on the Broncos roster at best. He had a hard-fought battle in training camp, won that, and was a fine kicker for most of the first half of the season. Later in the season, his accuracy and distance began to suffer. People talked about his confidence being weak. Mentions that perhaps he’d been asked to do too much were brushed off with the standard phrase of the time. I’m sure that you recall some variation of it. “He’s a kicker - he’s not even a real football player! How can he wear out?”
Two years later, we know the answer to that. Stefan Fatsis answered it in his book A Few Seconds of Panic. Too much kicking results in repetitive motion problems that will take at least a month or more to recover. That was all that was wrong with Prater - the special teams assistant that was tasked with kickers didn’t know much about kicking. This isn’t a rare situation - Phil Simms still states that there are a lot of teams that lack a quality QB coach. Imagine putting that kind of capital into a player and not having someone there to coach him properly? It’s bizarre - and it’s more common than most fans would believe.
Also two years ago, Ryan McBean was taking out a lease on his place on the practice squad. It changed: during the first OTAs of 2009, he was promoted to the first string, where he spent the rest of the year. He was also injured during the season, and was never quite as effective afterward. His situation changed again when Kevin Vickerson, all 321 lb of him, came to the team and took away McBean’s starting slot. Now McBean will have another chance to bring the quality of his game up above Vickerson’s. That’s the way of football. Even more importantly, a guy who was a starter in 2009 is now a backup to a player who was at times a backup in Tennessee. The additions of Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan took players who were starters and ushered them into backup or rotational circumstances. In other words, the Broncos are a deeper, stronger, heavier, and more physical team than they were a year ago. They are also mentally stronger, having added players from winning teams, players who are used to success and know what it takes to create it. That’s a good thing, because one thing that the Ravens are used to is success. And Denver needs to find ways to change that. It’s the perfect opportunity to test themselves and to find out how far they’ve come.
Which brings us to this week - how do you beat the Ravens? One thing is certain - they have studied the tape of this year’s Broncos intently. It’s a new team, with some new faces on coaching, offense, defense and STs. That’s good and bad.
IAOFM reader Sleepyteak made a good point on a thread this week - he pointed out that the amount of pressure vs. containment on the QBs was more likely a matter of scheme than anything else. I’d agree. Chris Johnson was more likely to harm Denver than Vince Young was, especially if Young was kept in the pocket. How about the Ravens?
Job 1 is stopping Ray Rice. I believe that he’s going to be even more trouble than Johnson. The OLBs will have to work with the DL on those. Joe Flacco is, in some ways, far more dangerous than Young. He relies on his legs less and his arm more, so pressure is the second key to this game’s defense.
Jason Hunter - I was wondering, since his play is going to be essential in keeping Ray Rice in check, just how Denver got him. Odd story - he was in Green Bay, but they got rid of him because they didn’t see him projecting well as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Maybe…...but he’s beautiful in a 5-2/3-4. Detroit wanted him as a LDE, and he wanted a winning team. Welcome to Denver, Jason. I hope you stay a long, healthy time.
DJ Williams - DJ has looked like a new man. Still needs some work on coverage, but is substantially better. Looks stronger, too - most of them do.