There is nothing better than inaugural football game of the season. What started out as a game that would likely go down to the wire, turned out to be a romp as the Broncos thoroughly dismantled the Ravens in a rematch of last season’s AFC Divisional round. Here are my ten thoughts on the season opener.
(Photo from Montreal Gazette)
1. Wes Welker looked terrific, except for his muffed punt in the second quarter. No one navigates between the numbers better than Welker. His ability to quickly create separation at the line of scrimmage using fakes and ‘jump-routes’ is something to behold. He made the Ravens secondary look foolish regardless of who was covering him. The chemistry between Manning and Welker is already apparent after only week one.
2. For the Ravens, there was clearly a lack of leadership within the defense. No one seemed to take any type of responsibility and there was virtually no fight from that team. Typically you would see Ray Lewis firing up his men if deficits of 10 and 18 points started to mount. One would assume Terrell Suggs would provide the emotional leadership that Ray Lewis did. Not only was he absent in that regard but he also did not play with the usual emotion and intensity he plays with. Not all should rest on Suggs’ shoulders though. Elvis Dumervil was contained through the vast majority of the game by Orlando Franklin. Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo struggled in coverage defending Julius Thomas as well. The defense as a whole allowed 49 points, which was the most ever by a Ravens team. It was a total failure by that defensive unit.
3. Clearly the loss of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta will affect the Ravens. I counted at least 5 drops by Dixon and Clark in key situations where they could have extended drives. Dixon especially is going to be asked to step up in the absence of Pitta and the Ravens need someone to create separation and catch those key 3rd down passes, as the Ravens were a poultry 8-22 on 3rd down efficiency. It will be crucial for the Ravens to find a playmaker who can create separation or more importantly, someone who can make plays even if they are not completely open like Boldin and Pitta did.
4. What was also alarming was Ray Rice and his lack of touches. It seemed like Cam Cameron was calling plays again as the Ravens opted for more of a passing attack and completely abandoned the run in the second half (Ray Rice amassed only 12 carries). When you are in Mile High, facing the altitude and a high tempo offense, you might want to control time of possession and control the amount of opportunities you give to Peyton Manning. I thought Joe Flacco did not play poorly, although he missed some deep passes, which has been an issue with him in the past. The jury is still out as to whether Flacco can consistently win games on his own when the rest of his team does not perform as well, like the great one’s do.
5. On the flip side, the defensive line and linebackers for the Broncos were extremely stout. They managed to create enough pressure to get to Flacco and pressure him into some bad throws. Jack Del Rio dialed up some nice blitz packages to offset the loss of Von Miller. I thought Shaun Phillips made some nice plays not only from a pass rushing standpoint but also against the run. Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard were also consistently around the football. If Woodyard is lost for any amount of time, that will be a devastating blow. Credit should be also given to their man coverage schemes whether it was their linebackers in Danny Trevathan (his bone-headed play notwithstanding),
6. The Broncos secondary looked very good despite the absence of Champ Bailey. Chris Harris(who had a beautiful interception in the first half) played well as a slot cornerback and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pretty much shut down Torrey Smith the entire game. He was only thrown at once all game and he made things look easy.
7. What more can be said about Peyton Manning. He started slowly when throwing to receivers not named Wes Welker but eventually got it together busting the seams with the surprising Julius Thomas. Manning made a great audible call on the Broncos second touchdown as well. He made a call at the line which the Ravens though would be a drag route to Thomas. Instead, Thomas ran a quick drag a go and fooled Daryl Smith for an easy score. Those types of plays are what make Manning one of the greatest of all time.
8. What was John Harbaugh thinking on that non-challenge of a Wes Welker 3rd down supposed catch. Not only should Welker have caught that easily but Harbaugh or someone in his staff must make sure there is a challenge play there. That clearly swung the pendulum to the Broncos side and the Broncos never recovered. Afterwards, Demayrius Thomas made a nice 34 yard catch and run and Andre Caldwell caught a nice 28 yard touchdown. That play was easily the turning point of the game as it was still a close contest prior to the Harbaugh miscue.
9. Back to Danny Levathan. We’ve seen this bone-headed play before and I simply cannot understand what possesses these players to do this. The worst part was Levathan played a terrific game and was nearly dominant in pass coverage. It is unfortunate that he will play such a great game, yet he will only be remembered for a dumb play.
10. Demaryius Thomas can be unstoppable whenever he wants to. Not much more needs to be said. His height, weight and speed combination is downright scary.