ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh put it quite simply in assessing the third matchup between the Broncos and Ravens in nine months.
“Well, if you love good football, you don’t get tired of watching it,” Harbaugh said on a conference call with the Denver media Sunday.
Thursday’s NFL regular-season opener in Denver kicks off at the very site where the two teams waged an unforgettable playoff contest in January. And on Sunday, Harbaugh noted that he understands the excitement arising from the teams’ growing familiarity.
“It’s one of these budding rivalries, it seems like, that kind of come around in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “We’re proud to be a part of that and just kind of glad that we’re good enough to make it a good game.”
The much-anticipated 2013 rematch of two memorable showdowns from last season – a 34-17 Broncos victory in Week 15 of the 2012 season and the Ravens’ aforementioned double-overtime, 38-35 victory in the AFC Divisional Playoffs – has also generated a mutual respect between the two teams, as Harbaugh acknowledged.
“I think (the Broncos) are just (a) tremendous football team in every way,” Harbaugh said. “They are very well coached. (Head Coach) John Fox and his coordinators are top notch. I think that they’ve got a great roster. They’ve done a great job of putting the roster together.”
And despite changes in the complexions of both sides, Fox noted that the enduring familiarities have made the game even more meaningful.
“It’s almost like a division team. We know them. They know us,” Fox said. “They’ve changed. We’ve changed. I’m sure both sides will be excited.”
“We have great respect for their organization and we’re excited to play,” he added.
As the seasons have changed, the shifts that both teams have experienced between January and September have been notable – with the Broncos no longer having the services of standout pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and
Dumervil now dons a Ravens jersey and Miller will stand on the sidelines while serving a six-game suspension.
But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco noted in his conference call Sunday that, despite the absences of Dumervil and Miller, he still expects to face a familiarly fierce defense because of the Broncos’ other playmakers.
“They’ve got a bunch of great guys,” Flacco said. “You guys have (LB Shaun) Phillips over there playing now and playing pretty well. We still expect a really, really good defense and guys that can get after the passer, guys that can play in the back-end.”
Flacco pointed out that the consistency and depth on the Broncos defense poses the same challenge that it did a season ago.
“We know how good these guys were last year,” he added. “We realize that they’ve lost two guys there that were pretty important, but at the same time they were good for a reason and that’s because they had consistency all across the board. And we expect that.”
Harbaugh agreed with Flacco’s assessment.
“The Broncos are still the Broncos and they’re going to put 11 excellent players on the field and they’re going to put pass rushers out there who can rush the passer,” he said.
And another unmistakably familiar aspect, as Harbaugh noted, is the presence of Broncos quarterback
“Well, he looks the same or better,” Harbaugh said. “I think he only gets better with the way he attacks you. His understanding of the game and obviously all the things he studies and all those things, boy, sure makes it hard on you.”
Harbaugh noted that the changes in Manning’s supporting cast – such as the offseason addition of wide receiver
“They just have a lot of weapons,” Harbaugh said. “Every one of those guys has excellent hands, brings something special to the table, size and speed wise and quickness wise. They all have the unique gifts.”
But for Harbaugh, it’s still one unchanging aspect – Manning’s ability to distribute the ball to his receivers – that makes the Broncos attack most concerning.
“I think the other great thing about it and what makes them so dangerous is that Peyton will go to any of them if it’s the best situation, most favorable matchup for their offense,” he said. “He’ll find them and he’s willing to go to all of them.”