Scouting Report: Ravens vs. Broncos (Week 1)

RAVENS PASSING GAME: So much has changed since Joe Flacco went into Denver last January for an AFC divisional-round playoff game and engineered a 38-35 upset. He now has a Super Bowl ring and the richest contract in team history, but after a sluggish preseason, he faces questions about whether he can pick up where he left off. Without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, Flacco threw two touchdown passes and four interceptions in the preseason. Torrey Smith (Maryland), now the team's No.1 option, had two touchdowns in their last meeting, finishing with 98 yards.

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BRONCOS PASSING GAME: Peyton Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season in his return from neck surgery. The Broncos already had two game-breaking wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but they gave Manning a new toy with the signing of longtime New England Patriot Wes Welker. He'll work in the slot, giving the Broncos arguably the best receiving corps in the league. The Broncos allowed just 21 sacks last year, the second-fewest in the NFL.

EDGE: BRONCOS

 

RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The opener will be a good gauge of how the Ravens balance carries between running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice rushed for 1,143 yards last season and will remain one of the focal points of the offense, but the Ravens clearly want to get Pierce even more involved. How often both play at the same time and how many snaps Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach gets bear watching. The Ravens finished 11th in the NFL in rushing last year with 118.8 yards per game.

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BRONCOS RUNNING GAME: After finishing 16th in the league in rushing yards per game (114.5), the Broncos used a second-round draft pick on Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. Ball figures to get goal-line opportunities, but the Broncos seem intent on going with a three-running-back attack that includes Ronnie Hillman and 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno. Hillman, who caused some problems for the Ravens last year, is atop the depth chart, but his two preseason fumbles caused some concern in Denver.

EDGE: RAVENS

 

RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: After allowing 122.8 rushing yards per game last season, the Ravens made upgrading the defensive line their top priority. Results this preseason were good, but the Ravens go into tonight's game without starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones (illness) and reserve Brandon Williams (toe). For the first time in 17 seasons, they'll enter a season without Ray Lewis. Bigger up front and faster at linebacker, they have all the makings of a top run defense but still must go out and prove it.

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BRONCOS RUSH DEFENSE: The Broncos had the third-stingiest run defense in the league last year, holding opponents to 91.1 yards per game. They also allowed an NFL-low 4.58 yards per play and had the league's best third-down defense. Interior linemen Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson plug up the middle, allowing middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard to roam free. Woodyard was the only player in the NFL last year with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions.

EDGE: BRONCOS

 

RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: This group has been entirely remade since the Ravens flustered Peyton Manning in January. The Ravens have former Bronco Elvis Dumervil rushing from the outside and Chris Canty from the inside. Lardarius Webb will play his first regular-season game since last October, and the two starting safeties are now Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo. The cornerbacks struggled in the preseason and will be tested by Manning. The Ravens had 37 sacks last year, a number they expect to grow significantly.

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BRONCOS PASS DEFENSE: What was one of the Broncos' biggest strengths last season — they tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks — is now one of their biggest question marks. Von Miller (18.5 sacks) is serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and Dumervil (11 sacks) is now with the Ravens. Robert Ayers will rush from one side, and the Ravens likely will see Derek Wolfe and Shaun Phillips on the other. Star cornerback Champ Bailey is out, too.

EDGE: RAVENS