ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Four months of chatter since the schedule was released is about to cease. Now it's about the Broncos, the Ravens, the start of a season and a rematch of a game destined to be long remembered in NFL annals.
It's rich with storylines, but from a football perspective, five stand above others. After the game, I'll revisit these and discuss how each turned out.
1. DICTATE THE PACE.
Whether that means snapping the football with 20 or more seconds left on the play clock or slowing it down if the Broncos are in front by multiple scores so they can hammer away with
For the Broncos, a quick offensive tempo has two purposes: to tire out the defense and limit its substitutions, so they can perhaps catch the Ravens in a personnel grouping that they can exploit. Baltimore rotated Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil in the preseason -- Upshaw played 58 snaps, Dumervil 38 -- and
But the exhaustion factor will likely be the most important. Denver's practice in up-tempo play at high altitude will also help its defense when Joe Flacco pushes the accelerator; they're accustomed to this, while the Ravens, on both sides of the line of scrimmage, are not.
2. CONTAIN RAY RICE.
Quite a bit goes into this: interior pressure to clog running lanes and force Rice outside, and solid tackling from the linebackers and defensive backs who come forward to respond to Rice's penchant for bouncing outside when a hole up the middle doesn't exist. The improved play of
3. DON'T LET TORREY SMITH GET A QUICK JUMP OFF THE SNAP.
The Ravens wide receiver has such a burst that if he can get a free release off the snap, he'll be upfield and beyond man-to-man coverage. Smith's acceleration led to a pair of touchdowns in January's playoff loss. Giving him a wide cushion isn't the answer; Atlanta did that in the preseason and got torched for a 77-yard touchdown, because a safety was slow to react and stumbled after Smith caught a slant.
4. USE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE.
The Broncos kept their defensive plans fairly straightforward in the preseason. This has two functions -- it allows for a clearer evaluation of personnel, and it offers a minimum of tactics that the Ravens can analyze in their film study. They can guess, but they don't know what to expect from a defense that will be without Bailey, Miller and Dumervil. This is only the fourth game the Broncos have played since 2006 without both Bailey and Dumervil; they went 1-2 in the previous three games, all of which were played in a four-game stretch between January and September 2011.
This gives the Broncos plenty of options. Surprise blitzes, each one more surprising than the last? Unusual alignments? Disguised coverages? Why not? It will likely take some creativity for Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio to mount the pressure he wants, and that will take a few gambles he might not have otherwise needed to make. But it will be crucial for him to not use all the tricks in his bag this week … after all, there's five more games before Miller comes back.
5. DON'T LET OPPORTUNITY SLIP AWAY.
Much of the blame for the divisional-round loss last January landed at the feet of safety
Credit is due to the Ravens for capitalizing on the Broncos, but the succession of misplays and lost chances is a reminder of how much had to go in the Ravens' favor for them to win. It's important for the Broncos to realize this and not press; if they play within themselves, they should be able to hang step for step with the defending world champions.