The Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos kickoff the 2013 NFL schedule Thursday night. We break down each side and let you know which team has the edge with our Tale of Tape for Thursday Night Football.
Peyton Manning is the biggest offensive weapon on the field Thursday and has added a new WR to his arsenal in former Patriots slotman Wes Welker. He joins downfield threats Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on an offense that averaged 30.4 points per game.
Denver’s rushing attack is a bit of an unknown heading into Week 1. The Broncos selected Wisconsin TD machine Montee Ball in the draft. He’ll share duties with RB Ronnie Hillman. Without a proven ground game, Baltimore could tee off on Manning with the pass rush.
Baltimore is hoping its heavy investment in QB Joe Flacco pays off. During their improbable run to the Super Bowl, Flacco was at the wheel of an explosive attack that averaged 31 points on 275.5 passing yards a game. Anquan Bolden is no longer in the mix and TE Dennis Pitta is out for the year, but WR Torrey Smith always seems to play well in primetime.
Ray Rice remains the backbone of the Baltimore ground game. The shifty RB rushed for 1,143 yards and is just as dangerous catching the ball. He was a beast versus Denver in the AFC Divisional Round, running up 131 yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker Elvis Dumervil traded hats this offseason, signing with Baltimore after a fax fiasco in Denver. That pickup shifts the defensive edge in this Week 1 matchup drastically, even more so now that Broncos LB Von Miller is suspended for six games.
The Ravens still have a nasty front seven, anchored by LB Terrell Suggs, who was a one-man wrecking crew with two sacks, a forced fumble and 10 tackles versus Denver in the playoffs. Baltimore’s secondary took a step back this offseason due to the loss of veteran S Ed Reed. Even with him, the Ravens surrendered some big numbers during last year’s postseason but were able to outscore their opponents.
The Broncos’ daunting pass rush has been subdued. Denver doesn’t have Dumervil or Miller pressuring the passer, which should allow Flacco plenty of time to pick apart a secondary that has seen better days. Champ Bailey is still an elite CB and gets some help from the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, however, those two haven’t been at 100 percent all summer.
Nothing gives those long field goals extra pop like the thin Mile-High air. Denver kicker Matt Prater is a threat for three points as soon as the ball crosses the 50-yard line. Broncos kick return specialist Trindon Holliday went for scores on punt and kickoff returns last season but has plagued his squad with costly fumbles. On the other side of the kickoff, Denver budged for a respectable average of 22.1 yards on kickoffs and just 6.2 on punts – lowest in the AFC.
The word is out on speedster Jacoby Jones, who highlighted Super Bowl XLVII with a 108-yard kickoff-return TD. Baltimore ranked tops in the NFL with an average of 27.3 yards per kickoff and added 9.4 yards per punt return. We'll see what the new kickoff rule does to those stats this season. The Ravens were sound on return coverage, giving up 23.2 yards per kickoff and 7.8 yards per punt in 2012.
Kicker Justin Tucker was surefooted in the Super Bowl, making two key FGs in the fourth quarter. He finished sixth in FG conversions, with his three misses coming from between 40-49 yards away. There won’t be any jitters in his boots for the season opener.
"The no-huddle offense is a great tool, a great strategy. You obviously have to be in great shape as a football team and your opponent has to be in great shape to keep up with you. But you have to execute quicker, you have to think quicker. You have to be able to operate in that kind of environment, but you force your opponent to do the same. It fits our philosophy." – Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on defending Broncos’ no-huddle in thin Denver air.
“When we're on the field on offense -- I love our fans' excitement -- but if we can just find that controlled noise level. I believe we are going to go for it on some fourth downs this year and maybe not cheering when we're going for it on fourth down – wait and see and if we get it, cheer then. To me, it's a hard thing. These fans have so much enthusiasm, but for a receivers' standpoint, you'd love to have that homefield advantage where you wouldn't have to signal at home.” – Peyton Manning on crowd noise distracting the offense at Sports Authority Field.