What: Ravens (0-0) at Broncos (0-0)
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Five questions to ask heading into the Ravens’ season-opener
1. Can the Ravens’ defense avoid getting carved up by Peyton Manning?
The Ravens are sick of hearing about Manning throwing seven touchdown passes against them in the 2013 season opener. But it happened.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees refuses to dwell on the 2013 Denver debacle.
“This is not the same team that we had two years ago,” Pees said. “That game means nothing to me. And if any coach sits and looks at a game (from) two years ago, he’s a fool.”
However, this remains a severe test for the Ravens defense. Manning may not throw with the same zip anymore, but he’s difficult to fool, difficult to sack, and difficult to beat in Denver, where the Broncos were 8-0 during the 2014 regular season. If the Ravens aren’t solid defensively, they won’t win.
2. Will the Ravens’ secondary avoid allowing big plays?
This goes hand-in-hand with question No. 1. The Broncos have two receivers who topped 1,000 yards last season, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both are dangerous running after the catch. The Ravens’ secondary looks improved on paper, with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb starting at the corners, Kendrick Lewis and Will Hill at safety, and nickel corner Kyle Arrington. But they must cover well and tackle well, or a routine play could quickly become six points.
3. Will we see another big-time, big-spot performance from Joe Flacco?
Flacco loves this kind of stage – on the road, electricity in the air, Ravens as underdogs. This is usually when Flacco dials in, and on his last two trips to Denver, Flacco has thrown for at least 330 yards.
“I like going there,” Flacco said. “I have a good feeling about that stadium, even the first time I stepped in and just started warming up. It’s a pretty cool place to play.”
Those comments should concern the Broncos. When Flacco gets rolling, the Ravens can win anywhere.
4. Can Ravens running back Justin Forsett rip off some big runs?
There has been plenty of talk about the Ravens’ wide receivers, and concern about who will step up to help Steve Smith. There hasn’t been enough talk about Forsett, coming off a 1,266-yard season and running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. Forsett led the NFL last season in runs longer than 20 yards, with 17. He’s fresh and healthy. If Forsett has a strong day, it will keep Manning off the field, and greatly improve the Ravens’ chances.
5. Will the opening-game magic return for John Harbaugh?
The Ravens have the NFL’s best September record (17-8) since 2008, when Harbaugh became head coach. However, the Ravens have lost their last two season-openers. If the Ravens start 2015 with a win in Denver, it could set the tone for another strong September.