Previewing the Ravens vs. the Denver Broncos [Pictures]
As the Ravens kick off the NFL regular season tonight against the Denver Broncos in a rematch of last year's AFC divisional-round playoff game, here's Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson's checklist of key areas and people to watch.
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1.( Justin Edmonds, Getty Images / August 24, 2013 )
Will the Ravens be able to contain the Denver Broncos' passing game?
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, pictured, is the lone four-time Most Valuable Player in NFL history, generating 4,659 passing yards and 37 touchdowns last season on 68.6 percent accuracy as he made a healthy return from neck surgery.
His numbers last season came with Brandon Stokley as the slot receiver, and now Stokley is playing for the Ravens. During the offseason, the Broncos signed former New England Patriots star wide receiver Wes Welker as Stokley's replacement.
The addition of Welker makes a dangerous receiving trio arguably the best in the NFL with the top three receivers combining last season for 297 receptions, 3,852 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns last season for New England. And big, speedy outside wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (94 catches, 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Eric Decker (85 catches, 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns are back.
That could create serious matchup issues for the Ravens defense against Manning, who was intercepted twice by cornerback Corey Graham during the Ravens' AFC divisional-round victory in January.
Look for Graham to draw the Welker assignment, and for the Broncos to test him considering that Welker caught eight passes for 117 yards and one touchdown in the AFC championship game when he was still playing for the Patriots.
As elusive as Welker can be, Thomas and Decker are extremely difficult to deal with from a size-speed standpoint.
That's where the pass-rushing tandem of rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil figures to come in handy. If they can harass Manning and keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket.
The Broncos could have a difficult time accounting for Suggs and Dumervil with single-blocking schemes, with any extra blocking attention liable to create opportunities for defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty.