Ravens vs. Broncos: Full Denver Game Preview

Travis Wakeman@@traviswakeman10Featured Columnist IVSeptember 10, 2015

Ravens vs. Broncos: Full Denver Game Preview

0 of 5

    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos will kick off the 2015 regular season the same way they did two years ago—with a visit from the Baltimore Ravens.

    This is an intriguing matchup, as Gary Kubiak's first game as Broncos head coach will come against the team for which he served as offensive coordinator just last season. Does either side feel that it may have an advantage in knowing the other's weaknesses?

    For Denver, not only is there a new head coach in town, but the team has been rebuilt on both sides of the ball.

    Kubiak and new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will search for a more controlled attack led by a solid running game within the Broncos' zone-blocking scheme. On defense, Wade Phillips will likely be much more aggressive than the defensive coordinator who preceded him, Jack Del Rio.

    That was evident in the preseason, as the Broncos racked up 20 sacks in four games.

    But the games are all important from this point forward, particularly in an AFC West division that figures to be very competitive this season. The Broncos need to stand tall in this home game and get the season started on the right foot.

    For a more complete preview, including an injury report and key matchups, read on.

    Location: Sports Authority Field, Denver

    Time: 4:25 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

News and Notes

1 of 5

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Montee Ball Released

    After initially making the team's final 53-man roster, Montee Ball was released on Sunday when the Broncos acquired offensive lineman James Ferentz and tight end Mitchell Henry via waivers.
    Center Gino Gradkowski was also cut.

    Just one year ago, Ball was anointed as the team's running back of the future after the team made no effort to retain free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno. Instead, Ball was limited to just five games due to injury.

    Coming into this year's training camp, Ball needed to show that he had not only recovered from the injury that hampered him in 2014, but he could be productive in the new offense. However, he was anything but.

    He was clearly behind C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson as the preseason wore onand probably Kapri Bibbs as well. As a result, Ball's tenure in Denver came to an end with just 731 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

    That doesn't exactly translate into a good second-round draft pick.

    Practice Squad Finalized

    After waiving Bibbs, the Broncos decided to bring him back and place him on the team's practice squad. Bibbs spent much of his rookie season there but was made active for games toward the end of the season. 

    Andrew Mason of the team's official website detailed the rest of the practice squad, which includes nine other players:

    • RB Kapri Bibbs
    • WR Jordan Taylor
    • TE Arthur Lynch
    • OT Kyle Roberts
    • NT George Uko
    • LB Zaire Anderson
    • C Dillon Day
    • LB Danny Mason
    • NT Chuka Ndulue
    • CB Taurean Nixon

    Emmanuel Sanders Will Return Punts

    Mason reported that the Broncos have their punt returner.

    Despite trying a variety of players as punt returners this offseason, the Broncos have opted to go with veteran Emmanuel Sanders despite the fact that he didn't play all preseason.

    On one hand, it's disappointing that no player was able to seize the opportunity and return puntsespecially due to the risk of injury to Sanders. On the other hand, Kubiak feels Sanders is the best man for the job, and he is capable of handling it.

Latest Injury News

2 of 5

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Broncos made it through training camp and four preseason games relatively unscathed. The loss of rookie tight end Jeff Heuerman was the only serious blow the team suffered.

    ESPN.com lists Sanders as probable for the game against Baltimore. Denver held Sanders out of the preseason for precautionary reasons as he nursed a sore hamstring.

    As noted, he has been selected to return punts for the team, so unless there is a serious setback this week, you should expect him to play.

    The Broncos may be without defensive end Kenny Anunike, who had minor knee surgery just a couple of weeks ago. CBSSports.com lists him as questionable.

    With Derek Wolfe suspended for this game, the Broncos will need a strong performance from Antonio Smith.

Key Matchups

3 of 5

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Denver Offensive Line vs. Baltimore Pass Rush

    This one seems obvious, but it may be the biggest key to the game. In fact, it may be the biggest key to the season for Denver.

    Matt Paradis and Ty Sambrailo will be making their first regular-season starts. The team will need to draw on the experience of Evan Mathis, Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris to help fend off guys like Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who will no doubt be eager to hit Peyton Manning.

    David Bruton vs. Maxx Williams

    Safety T.J. Ward will miss this game after being suspended by the league for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. That is a huge loss for the Denver defense.

    As a result, David Bruton will likely get the start in his place, and he will be a target of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense. The Ravens will look to unleash rookie tight end Maxx Williams, and this is a matchup they could try to exploit all game.

    Josh Bush will probably see some playing time as well, and he and Bruton need to be ready to step up and defend the athletic Williams. Keeping him in front of them and making quick tackles will help limit what he can do after the catch, which will be key.

    The Ravens will be without tight end Dennis Pitta, who will begin the season on the PUP list, and ESPN.com lists rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman as doubtful for this game.

    Flacco will need somewhere to go with the football other than Steve Smith, and Williams seems like a likely candidate.

    Peyton Manning vs. Daryl Smith/C.J. Mosley

    Like Denver, Baltimore runs a 3-4 defense. This is the same scheme Manning has been going against in practice every day this summer. Kubiak knows how to attack it as well.

    Manning will be reading inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley on every play, and when he drops back to pass, many of his primary reads will be to tight ends or receivers crossing the field.

    When Manning gets Owen Daniels or Sanders matched up against one of these guys, a perfect throw could turn into a big gain.

    Both Smith and Mosley are good in coverage, but Manning's experience can win out against them.

Matchup X-Factor

4 of 5

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Broncos' X-Factor of the Week: Andre Caldwell

    Coming into the 2015 season, it seemed that Andre Caldwell would need an impressive preseason in order to stick around in Denver. Well, he did.

    Caldwell caught two long touchdown passes from Brock Osweiler during the preseason and probably looked better than last year's second-round pick, Cody Latimer. Look for Caldwell to ride that hot streak into Week 1 against the Ravens.

    Over his career, Caldwell has 16 receptions, 233 yards and four touchdowns against the Ravens. In the 2013 season opener, Caldwell's only catch against Baltimore went for 28 yards and a score.

    He may not put up huge stats in this game, but he will be another player the team can insert into the game and force the Ravens to account for. Don't be surprised if the Broncos try to get him on a deep route for a big play, as he showed a knack for long gains in the preseason.

Prediction: Denver Broncos 24, Baltimore Ravens 20

5 of 5

    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Baltimore leads the all-time series between these teams 7-5 (playoffs included). The last time they met, the Broncos were hungry for revenge after the Ravens turned an upset in the divisional round of the playoffs into a Super Bowl win.

    The following year, the Broncos spoiled their season opener by scoring 49 points. Manning tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the game.

    This time, it will be the Ravens looking to get back at the Broncos and spoil their season opener. They will also want to prove that they still belong in the discussion as far as the best teams in the AFC are concerned.

    Denver is still working out some kinks on the offensive side of the ball, as evidenced during the preseason. Manning will come in prepared, but he's not going to throw seven touchdowns in this game. Instead, the Broncos will need to pound the ball at the Ravens and then make some plays on defense.

    That is how this team is going to find success this season.

    A victory won't come easily against a solid Ravens team, one that almost always gives Denver trouble, but the Broncos will do enough to put points on the board and then hold on for the win in the end.

    Final Prediction: Broncos 24, Ravens 20

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.