Biggest Questions Facing Denver Broncos in Week 1 Contest with Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore won that game in thrilling fashion, and now, the Broncos look to open this season with a measure of revenge.
Currently, the Broncos are listed as 7.5-point favorites and will be playing the game inside the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field.
However, the Broncos do have some big questions going into this game, probably more than they would like.
Will the Pass Defense Hold Up Against the Baltimore Attack?
The Broncos had the NFL's No. 3-ranked pass defense last season. In the divisional round of the playoffs against Baltimore, you would have never known it.
Joe Flacco attacked the secondary throughout the game, never shying away from Champ Bailey. This led to one of wide receiver Torrey Smith's best days as a pro.
At the end of the day, Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, and if that happens on Thursday, the Broncos will likely be looking at another defeat.
In the offseason, the Broncos addressed the secondary by bringing in free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It looks like they'll have to rely on him early, as it is being reported by ESPN that Bailey will not play Thursday night.
The Broncos will need solid play from Chris Harris as well as the safety positions. This will be one of the biggest keys to the game.
How Will the Offensive Line Perform?
Last season, one of the strengths of the Denver Broncos was the offensive line. But since the season ended, the unit has undergone some changes.
With J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen both out with injuries, the Broncos have been forced to shift Manny Ramirez over to the center position.
Louis Vasquez came over from San Diego via free agency and should be an upgrade at the guard position, but has this unit had enough time to jell together?
Finally, Ryan Clady is coming off of shoulder surgery and will be protecting Peyton Manning's blind side against the likes of Elvis Dumervil or Terrell Suggs, whichever of the two lines up across from him.
In order for Denver to run the new fast-paced offense new coordinator Adam Gase has installed, the success will need to start up front.
Will the Team Get Consistent Play from the Running Back Position?
The Broncos will likely use a rotation of three running backs on Thursday night, but it remains to be seen how much each guy will play.
Ronnie Hillman will probably be the first guy out, but expect to see a healthy dose of both Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball.
If Denver decides to go pass heavy, Moreno will likely get the bulk of the work, as he is easily the best at picking up blitzing defenders. Neither Hillman nor Ball has shown the ability to do so on a consistent level.
Whether it be running the ball and picking up enough yardage to put the team in manageable downs or protecting Manning, the Broncos need a good game out of at least one of their running backs.
Who Will Step Up on Defense?
With Champ Bailey injured, Von Miller suspended and Elvis Dumervil lining up with the opposing team, the Broncos will need someone to make some plays on defense in this game.
Danny Trevathan and Robert Ayers will be new starters for the defense, charged with trying to replace Miller and Dumervil, respectively.
Between them, those two players compiled 29.5 sacks last season. Trevathan and Ayers probably won't make that kind of an impact, but they need to be able to hold their own.
Duke Ihenacho and Terrance Knighton will also be new starters on defense, but this is the game for a player like Wesley Woodyard to step up and become a leader on defense.
Last season, Woodyard led the team in tackles and was one of the most underrated linebackers in the entire NFL. Look for him to get the 2013 season started off with a big game against Baltimore.