A star quarterback. Three game-changing receivers. A field-stretching tight end.
Fast-forward five weeks, and another club with strikingly similar weaponry is about to go head-to-head with the Ravens. That team is the Green Bay Packers, who will go on the road to Baltimore in Week 6 Sunday.
"When you're playing a quarterback that has full control over the offense and their receivers are in tune, you have to be on your best game," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. "We're looking at this game like we're facing another Peyton Manning."
To be fair, no offense is currently in position to be accurately compared with a Denver club that is averaging 46 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense a game in 2013. The Broncos have started this season in historic fashion, thanks mostly to Manning's mastery of the quarterback position and four ridiculously talented receiving options in Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.
|PPG||46.0 (1st)||29.5 (3rd)|
|YPG||489.8 (1st)||453.3 (3rd)|
|Passing YPG||373.8 (1st)||312.3 (4th)|
|Rushing YPG||116.0 (15th)||141.0 (5th)|
|Yards After Catch/G||196.6 (1st)||164.3 (5th)|
But if there's any collection of talent that has a case to be the lighter version of the Denver offense, it might be the Packers, who can lay claim to the necessary ingredients of a top-level quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), three talented receivers (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones) and a matchup-busting tight end (Jermichael Finley).
Replicating the 49 points and seven passing touchdowns is an obvious stretch for the Packers Sunday, especially with the Ravens' pass rush suddenly heating up and the defense otherwise beginning to gel. This current unit has begun to separate itself from the one that was shredded to pieces by Manning in the opener.
However, it's impossible to look at the personnel available to Green Bay and not imagine the brand of damage this offense could inflict using Denver's blueprint.
Thomas may be the clear No. 1 receiver that Green Bay lacks, but Nelson (371 yards in 2013) isn't too far behind. In fact, Nelson is currently seventh in receiving yards per game (92.8) this season and fourth in touchdown catches (25) since 2011.
Cobb, Jones and Finley are mostly comparable to Denver's remaining trio of Welker, Decker and Thomas.
Cobb has evolved into the second coming of Welker, who has dominated the slot position like no other receiver in NFL history. The Packers' inside man is on pace to catch 100 passes in 2013.
Jones, with his deceptive speed, is averaging 17.8 yards per catch this season, while Decker has catches of 50 or more yards in three straight games. The two are within one touchdown of each other over the last two seasons (Jones 16, Decker 15).
Like Nelson, Cobb and Jones are both on pace for more than 1,300 yards receiving in 2013.
At tight end, Finley has 17 catches and two touchdowns in three healthy games. He can press the seam and make defenders miss in the open field, much like Thomas in Denver.
|Thomas, Welker, Decker, Thomas||Nelson, Cobb, Jones, Finley|
However, matching the debut put on by Denver will still be a tall task.
In the season opener, the Broncos ran up 510 yards, including 445 passing, and scored touchdowns on seven different drives. Five of the scores came in the second half.
Both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas went over 100 yards receiving, and Welker caught nine passes and two scores. Had Decker not dropped three catchable passes, Manning would have likely cleared 500 yards.
The Broncos lost two fumbles, committed eight penalties and allowed three sacks, but they were still able to score 49 points.
While the 37-year-old Manning was razor sharp for most the night, he also received a big assist in the form of yards after the catch. A whopping 270 of Manning's 462 passing yards came after the catch, which marked the fifth-most in a single game since 1993.
Only two weeks later, the Packers set the new high-water mark in yards after the catch when they tallied 295 in a rout of the Washington Redskins. Green Bay is averaging 164 a game this season.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows that getting the Packers receivers on the ground will be a big factor Sunday, via Wilson.
"The biggest thing in the first game was tackling," Pees said. "If you really think back on the plays that Denver broke for big plays, we missed some tackles and gave them some great opportunities. We've got to do a great job of tackling."
Of course, there's also that quarterback position to address.
Manning is clearly playing at an all-world level right now, but his last two seasons have been only slightly better than Rodgers'. Since 2011, Manning has 57 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions, good for a passer rating of 113.6. Over that same stretch, Rodgers' stat line reads 48/11/107.5.
These are two quarterbacks who are master craftsmen—football deliverymen of the highest degree. Many would rank Manning and Rodgers No. 1 and 2, in varying orders, on the quarterbacking totem pole.
Smith actually gave Rodgers the edge in a few important passing categories ahead of Sunday.
"To Aaron Rodgers’ credit, he’s a little quicker with the ball, he has better arm strength right now,” Smith said, via Clifton Brown of CSN Baltimore.
Will the Packers score more than 30 points Sunday against the Ravens?
Quick with the football could be important for Rodgers Sunday, as a pair of inexperienced tackles (David Bakhtiari on the left, Don Barclay on the right) will be clashing with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil—one of the game's best edge-rushing duos.
Suggs had three sacks of Ryan Tannehill in Week 5, and he now has seven on the season. Overall, Baltimore is second in the NFL with 19 sacks in 2013.
If any one factor will put a halt to Green Bay's plans on offense Sunday, it will be a relentless pass rush coming from Suggs and Dumervil.
However, the Packers have already been through a gauntlet of impressive pass-rushing teams this season and are no worse for the wear. In fact, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Green Bay as the seventh-most efficient pass-blocking line in the NFL this season.
If Rodgers is kept clean Sunday, he can certainly put on his best Manning impression. Maybe not to the tune of seven touchdowns and 49 points, but the Packers offense is plenty capable of taking advantage of the same shortcomings in the Ravens defense that Manning did so prolifically in Week 1.