Broncos 49, Ravens 27
Strategy: During a blowout loss to the Broncos, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell tried to get quarterback Joe Flacco into a rhythm with new targets, running the shotgun on 62 of 87 snaps while mixing in 24 no-huddle plays. A lot of intermediate crossing and stop-and-go patterns were utilized with less deep throws than usual. The run was abandoned with only five carries for 3 yards after halftime. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees rarely blitzed because he needed all hands on deck in coverage against Peyton Manning, relying on edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and defensive tackle Chris Canty to generate most of the pressure. The coverage plan involved a lot of schemes where the first defender is supposed to pass the receiver on to a teammate. It didn't generate the anticipated results as Manning shredded them for seven touchdown passes.
Personnel: Ed Dickson started at tight end, but had just 39 snaps as Dallas Clark played 60 snaps. Rick Wagner was forced into action at tackle when Michael Oher sprained his ankle. Wagner got exposed by veteran pass rusher Shaun Phillips. It was a heavy three-receiver rotation: Torrey Smith (87 snaps), Marlon Brown (67 snaps) and Brandon Stokley (57 snaps). The defensive ironmen were middle linebacker Daryl Smith and strong safety James Ihedigbo with 100 percent participation, followed by cornerback Jimmy Smith (96 percent), cornerback Corey Graham (92 percent) and linebacker Josh Bynes (92 percent). Dumervil (40 snaps) and Courtney Upshaw (37 snaps) closely divided playing time at strong-side linebacker.
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What went right: Suggs, Dumervil, Canty and Haloti Ngata stood apart, frequently muscling through blocks. Cornerback Lardarius Webb's surgically-repaired left knee held up as he solidly shadowed elite receivers after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October against the Dallas Cowboys Flacco delivered many crisp throws, but was undone by a lot of drops. Torrey Smith looks capable of being a go-to guy, if given more targets. An undrafted rookie, Brown has the requisite size-speed combination and was poised enough to catch a touchdown in his first NFL regular-season game in what shapes up as an encouraging performance. After an extremely rough start, Clark managed seven catches. Fullback Vonta Leach caught his first touchdown in four seasons.
What went wrong: Unsuspecting Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones sprained his knee while signaling for a fair catch on a punt return when rookie safety Brynden Trawick plowed into him by accident. Tackling, coverage and communication in the secondary was shoddy with overmatched free safety Michael Huff arguably the worst offender as he couldn't corral athletic tight end Julius Thomas. Jimmy Smith rarely turns for the football while trailing receivers, triggering touchdowns and penalties. He's fortunate he didn't break an ankle when Demaryius Thomas faked him out in the open field. Graham was constantly a step behind Wes Welker. Daryl Smith was far too quiet, and Josh Bynes didn't look sharp in pass coverage. Dickson dropped four passes, and Clark mishandled a potential touchdown. Stokley wasn't elusive after the catch. The running game got stonewalled, held to a paltry 2.8 average as Leach played just 19 snaps. Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho was rarely blocked and disrupted several running plays. Flacco was guilty of staring down his intended target on a pair of interceptions.
Turning point: The blocked punt in the third quarter was extremely costly, leading directly to a touchdown that boosted the Broncos' lead to 28-17. Safety David Bruton shot through a gap between rookie linebacker Arthur Brown and Ihedigbo to deflect the football off Sam Koch's foot. Brown appears mainly responsible for the breakdown as Ihedigbo fanned out to block another rusher.
X-factor: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden could be under siege against a defense eager to redeem itself. Suggs and Dumervil could exploit a porous line that allowed six sacks against the Dolphins. Between Suggs and Dumervil, the Ravens have a formidable tandem with two Pro Bowl pass rushers who both would warrant double-team blocking attention without the presence of the other player charging from the opposite side.