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For the first half of the NFL’s season opener between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos, Baltimore seemed to be holding its own against the favorite to win the AFC. But suddenly, the game got unbelievably out of hand, and Peyton Manning dissected that Super Bowl-winning defense like few (if any) teams have ever been able to.
Was this a sign that the massive exodus of talent, leadership and experience out of Baltimore has been the team's undoing?
I think not.
However, the Ravens clearly missed both Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed at the safety positions, as new starters Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo struggled against Denver’s potent passing attack.
First-round pick Matt Elam (safety) and second-rounder Arthur Brown (Linebacker) obviously weren't ready to shoulder the pressure of a game against Manning. This could explain why both youngsters didn't start the game or even saw much action.
Over time, these players will play a more significant role in the defense as they get their feet wet and acclimate to their new environment. That time could begin on Sunday against the Browns.
The Ravens' biggest issue, though, may be on the offensive side of the ball, as Joe Flacco continues to wonder who he can throw the ball to aside from Torrey Smith. To make matters worse, Baltimore’s offensive line looked less than stellar a week ago, giving up a ton of pressure on its franchise quarterback, who was sacked and pressured consistently throughout the night.
The Cleveland Browns come to town with gobs of pass-rushing talent and a strong desire to get their first win.
Both teams should be fired up and focused as they each fight for redemption, all the while hoping to avoid the ridicule of being 0-2.
Look for leaks in the Ravens’ protection as Flacco struggles to find a reliable target. As a result, Ray Rice will be asked to do much more than he’s capable of without a passing attack to keep defenses off balance.
The Ravens need to improve their play at safety. If Elam isn’t given more of a shot to impress against Brandon Weeden and the Browns, it could be an ominous sign that he isn’t ready for the NFL limelight.
Whoever ends up losing this intriguing matchup will certainly have a lot of explaining to do, as it will start the season with back-to-back losses.
Though the Browns are much improved from 2012, they still need to learn how to win those critical games, the ones that can determine a team's overall mentality for the rest of the season. The Ravens understand how to do this, and must if they hope to silence the early criticism regarding their championship defense tour.