As we have been hyping all week and ever since the schedule came out, tonight's NFL Kickoff game between the Denver Broncos and defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens is going to be a great matchup between two of the top teams in the AFC in a rematch of last season's AFC Divisional Round playoff game. As is custom here at Ravens101, today we will give you the five key matchups to watch for in tonight's season opener.
There are always key players or matchups in every game, but we dive through the numerous factors and battles to provide Ravens fans the five most important and here is our take for tonight.
Torrey Smith vs Dominque Rogers-Cromartie
With CB Champ Bailey already ruled out for tonight's game, the Broncos will already see their questionable secondary get a little weaker, but it remains a question of who is going to stop Ravens WR Torrey Smith. In last year's AFC Divisional Round game, Smith torched Bailey all over the field, including twice for touchdowns; but with Bailey out, the Bronco's second best CB Rodgers-Cromartie will likely get the job of covering Smith. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has fewer weapons on the receiving end than he did last year with both Anquan Boldin traded and Dennis Pitta out with an injury, so Smith is going to see a lot of targets and Smith's ability to get open tonight will be huge. If Smith can begin to draw double coverage, the likes of Jacoby Jones, Brandon Stokley and Marlon Brown could gets some key man-to-man matchups to help the offense.
Ravens defensive front seven vs Broncos offensive line
Throughout the entire offseason, the one glowing improvement on the Ravens defense is their front seven as they now have great depth and the personnel to aggressively rush the quarterback, something Baltimore was inconsistent with last season. The ability of this revamped front seven to beat the Broncos offensive line and apply pressure on quarterback Peyton Manning is going to be hugely influential in several ways. By applying pressure, they will force Manning to get rid of the ball much faster than he would like and help the secondary in their coverage because they will not have to stick with the potent wide receivers that the Broncos have for nearly as long. Also, Manning is not much of a scrambler, so if Baltimore can get some licks in on him, he may begin to feel the pressure before it is actually there and make some bad decisions.
Daryl Smith vs Wes Welker
You may be scratching your head a little bit here, but let us explain. Smith and Welker will not be having a head to head matchup by any stretch of the imagination, but Smith is going to be patrolling the middle of the field in the 5-15 yard range and if there is one thing we have learned about Welker during his career, it is that he makes a living by running short slant routes over the middle. Smith's ability to sniff these out and either tackle Welker immediately, or break some plays up will go a long way in the Ravens effort of slowing down this Broncos offense.
Ravens O-Line vs Broncos D-Line
The Broncos ranked third in the NFL last season in fewest rushing yards allowed and there defensive line is very solid. Baltimore's offensive line will need to be able to get some push up front if they want to be able to give Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce some running room and lanes. The Ravens' ability to run the football effectively tonight is going to be vastly important if they want to slow down Denver's pass rush. In addition, if Baltimore can run the ball, it will also help the wide receivers as Denver could begin to stack the box to try and slow down the run, therefore giving Ravens wide receivers more opportunities at soft zone coverage or man-to-man.
Jimmy Smith vs Any Broncos receiver
Look, we are not trying to bash Smith by using that matchup headline, but let's face it, he has been a disappointment thus far in his career, and we saw him get torched this preseason by the Falcon's Julio Jones, so it is also fair. The Ravens are facing one of the top three, if not the best, wide receiving groups in the NFL tonight and Smith is going to be on the field a majority of the night. If he can hold his own, whether lined up against Welker, Demaryius Thomas, or Eric Decker, it will be a huge boost for this defense. Smith has shown signs of being a good NFL cornerback, but his inconsistencies have led to doubt and tonight will provide him with a great opportunity to prove he is ready to be the first rounder Baltimore believed he would be.
There you have it, there are our five key matchups to watch for tonight. There are several other matchups that will play a big role in tonight's game, but we believe these are the five most important. The only thing left now is for the season to get underway and for the Baltimore Ravens to begin their quest for a sixth straight playoff appearance and a Super Bowl repeat.
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