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Broncos Ravens reactions: Denver's dominant defense deserves all the credit

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The opening game of the 2015 season was one for the ages. It wasn't pretty, but a magnificent performance by the Denver Broncos defense helped propel them to a 19-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

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Defensive dominance and offensive inconsistency.  Those are the key words that highlight the season opening performance by the Denver Broncos in their 19-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon.

Wade Philips had his defense prepared for every assignment and situation they faced.  They played with unmatched ferocity and tenacity that hasn't been seen at Mile High in well over a decade. Had the Broncos defense not played the impeccable game they did, the outcome of the game would have been much different for Denver, who heads into next weeks game against Kansas City 1-0 for early bragging rights in the AFC West.

Offensive inconsistency

But it wasn't all orange-and-blue-colored rainbows for the Broncos Sunday afternoon. To the chagrin of fans across the globe, the newly installed offense of Head Coach Gary Kubiak was slow to start and amassed only with 114 yards in the first half the lowest yardage total accumulated by the Broncos in any first half of the Peyton Manning era. They finished the game with zero touchdowns and a paltry 219 yards of total offense.

One of the biggest concerns heading into the regular season was the teams' offensive line, who looked overwhelmed and over-matched throughout a majority of the game. They lacked discipline and cohesiveness and committed a handful of false start penalties and failed to give Manning the protection necessary to keep the Broncos offense moving down the field. Overall, it was a poor performance and the four sacks allowed by the offensive line was the most they have given up in two years.  In case you missed it, a comprehensive review of the game is provided below.

The Ravens received the opening kick of the 2015 season, but were only able to convert one first down and take three minutes off the clock before punting to the Broncos who took over deep in their own territory.

Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning were clutch on the first drive, and were 3-of-3 on third downs, but Manning was shaky on several plays, missing Demaryius Thomas badly on a play action roll out play with a ball several yards short of the intended target. After a false start penalty by Louis Vasquez, the Broncos were in a 3rd and 16 situation where Manning overthrew Sanders in the end zone which brought their offensive march to a hault. However, Brandon McManus drilled a 57 yard field goal to give the Broncos a 3-0 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter.

It was one of the most insignificant offensive performances I had ever witnessed in the first half of an NFL game

Former Virginia standout and Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe went out early in the game with a concussion and the Broncos pass rush was able to take advantage and put pressure on Joe Flacco. Denver's defense as able to force a three in out, with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller forcing a Joe Flacco pass into the dirt early on second down.  On the next play, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall fired up the middle of the Ravens offensive line and sack Flacco for a seven yard loss.

On the ensuing punt return, Sanders made a few shifty moves and was able to get 13 yards to give Denver great field position near midfield at the 47 yard line. The Broncos weren't able to go far on their second drive, but it was far enough for McManus to connect on another long range field goal to put the team up 6-0.

Defensive dominance

The defensive domination for Denver continued, with Ware feasting on Flacco for a quarterback sack from the backside to end the first quarter and their unyielding effort dictated the course of the Ravens offense, who had to punt for a third consecutive drive.

After two scoring drives on their first two possessions, the beginning of the Broncos offensive struggles started to pile up. They couldn't get anything going in the running game and after a false start penalty by Evan Mathis and a big sack allowed by Matthew Paradis, the Broncos were forced to punt to the Ravens who took over with good field position after an awful 37 yard punt by Britton Colquitt.

Baltimore was able to take advantage and dominate the Broncos defensive line in the trenches and march down the field for a few downs by way of the running game.  However, the defense turned their play up a notch and halted their foe from going any further and were relegated to a 52 yard field goal conversion by Justin Tucker to bring the score to 6 to 3.

Delayed blitzes were the Broncos bane on their subsequent possession, where Ravens promising young inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was able to sack Manning twice and prematurely end the Broncos drive with 2:29 seconds remaining in the first half.

But the Broncos defense continued to show their elite ability, hampering the Baltimore offense to no gain on their next possession and used their final timeout with a minute and twenty seconds to go in order to give the offense a shot at scoring before halftime.

Manning and the Broncos quickly set up their two minute offense and completed three passes to Jordan Norwood and Emmanuel Sanders, but overthrows to both receivers in the endzone led the Broncos to settle for a 43 yard field goal from McManus, who took a 9 to 3 lead into halftime.

It was one of the most insignificant offensive performances I had ever witnessed in the first half of an NFL game.  The two teams combined for only 152 yards of total offense, which was the lowest total for offensive production in a half since 2011. And to make matters worse, it didn't get any better for our beloved Broncos to start the second half.

The worst possible beginning imaginable happened when Manning being picked off by former Colorado Buffs star Jimmy Smith to give the Ravens a 10 to 9 lead just seconds into the third quarter. It was a poor decision by Manning, but also a prime example of failure on behalf of the Broncos coaching staff to make proper adjustments to negate the "player free" pass rush the Ravens had employed earlier in the game with resounding success. Furthermore, it was a startling indictment of an offensive line who lacked communication and uniformity to have success against Baltimore's defensive front seven.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse on the offensive side of the ball for the Broncos, it did. They continued their implosion by registering a quick three and out immediately after and the Ravens took over at the 40 yard line and were able to move enough down the field and kick another field goal to put them ahead 13 to 9 with 9:33 remaining in the 3rd quarter. On the subsequent possession, Manning continued to look like a shell of his former self, misfiring on several passes and Denver's offense once again fizzled into obscurity.  The first three possessions for the Broncos in the second half accounted for 9 yards on 9 plays.  A completely frustrating and unacceptable amount of production that put an extraordinary burden on the shoulders of the defense.

But when all hope seemed lost and the boos were reigning down at Mile High, Aqib Talib picked off Flacco for a 51 yard interception return to put the Broncos up 16-13 with just seconds remaining in the third quarter. It was the spiritual boost the team needed going into the final stretch and the ultimate difference maker in the tidal wave that turned the tide in the Broncos for favor and kept them ahead for good.

It took three quarters, but the Broncos offensive line was finally able to gel and get to the second level with their blocks and help spark the running game. They used a healthy dose of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to control the pace of the game and master the time of possession.  A key third down penalty on Ladarius Webb against Sanders gave the Broncos a first down in Ravens territory to keep Denver's hope of scoring alive.  After17 plays for 81 yards and almost 11 minutes taken off the clock, McManus kicked his fourth field goal of the day to give the Broncos a 19-13 lead with 2:55 remaining in the game.

Yet, the drama wasn't over.  The Ravens marched down the field and made their way deep into Broncos territory leaving fans on the edge of their seats wherever they were sitting. The emotions were high, stress levels hit fever pitch and every fingernail on my phalanges were completely bitten off. But in the end the Broncos reigned victorious due an interception by Darian Stewart, the ex-Raven, who put the dagger through the hearts of his former team and sealed an opening day victory for the Broncos.

It was a hard fought game by both teams, but in the end, the Broncos were victorious.  Not because of their offense, but because of the efficacy of their defense that looks to be one of the most formidable in the NFL. There are a lot of positives to take away from this game, but more importantly, a lot of negatives, especially in regard to the offense that will be under much scrutiny in the days leading up to their divisional rival showdown with Kansas City on Thursday Night.  If the Broncos want to go 2-0, they are going to have to do much better than they did today offensively.

Miscellaneous Musings

  • Owen Daniels registered multiple receptions, marking 105 straight games with a catch by the veteran tight end marking the longest streak currently in the NFL.
  • Peyton Manning was sacked three times in the first half and four time over the course of the game. It was the most sacks he had taken in a single game since 10/20/13 against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Denver only rushed for 25 yards on 9 carries in the first half.  One of their worst performances in that regard since their loss to Seattle last season.
  • The 152 yards of offensive production by the Broncos and Ravens was the lowest of any NFL game since 2011.
  • Emmanuel Sanders was highly targeted, with six receptions in the first half, with four of them going for first downs.  He had 8 catches for 85 yards for the game to lead the Broncos in receiving.
  • Defensive end Malik Jackson was taken out of the game in the third quarter in order to be evaluated for a concussion and ruled out due to experiencing concussion-like symptoms.  This is a significant blow to the Broncos defense who was already down a man due to the suspension of Derek Wolfe and is an area of concern with a game against Kansas City on Thursday.
  • Broncos safety Omar Bolden left the game and was ruled out at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a foot injury.
  • C.J. Anderson reportedly has a sprained toe according to CBS Vic Lombardi, here is to hoping he recovers quickly and is available to play come Thursday.
  • Ravens star outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with an apparent foot injury, but was later confirmed to be an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the entire season.
  • Line Judge Gary Arthur, who was carted off the field in the first half, suffered a broken collarbone and did not return.
  • The 17 play drive that took 10:56 off the clock was the longest drive of Peyton Manning's career.