NFL Nation: Peyton Manning
Pushed into a corner, rookie San Diego general manager Tom Telesco responded with his highest-profile acquisition of the offseason by signing pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on Saturday. He agreed to a two-year contract according to ESPN’s Ed Werder. Telesco and Freeney were together in Indianapolis since 2002.
The reunion had little chance of occurring until 2012 San Diego first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in a non-contact OTA on Tuesday. It was a crushing blow. Not only did the Chargers think Ingram was ready to dominate, but he was their top pass-rushing option after the free-agent departures of Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes.
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports At 33 years old, can Dwight Freeney give San Diego's pass rush steady production?
Yes, he is aging at 33 and he has just 13 of his 107.5 career sacks in the past two years. There is no doubt that Freeney, who is known for having one of the best spin moves in the history of the game, is near the end. But this paring makes sense simply out of desperation. The Chargers weren’t going to find a better replacement for Ingram than Freeney and Freeney was not going to get a better situation than San Diego. There were few places Freeney would have had a bigger role.
There are questions of whether Freeney is an ideal fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. He played in it last season in Indianapolis and wasn’t as strong of a fit as he was in the 4-3.
I don’t think it is going to be an issue. San Diego coach Mike McCoy told Werder that the team would adjust to Freeney. That doesn’t mean the Chargers (whose defensive coordinator is John Pagano -- the brother of Chuck Pagano, who was Freeney’s coach in Indianapolis last year) are going to totally scrap the 3-4 for a 33-year-old player. It means the Chargers are multiple in their pass-defense looks and Freeney will likely often line up in his customary 4-3 defensive end position.
In short, the Chargers will put Freeney in his comfort level. Many think he will succeed in San Diego.
“I like it and I do think he has something left,” ESPN’s Matt Williamson said. “The Chargers are not a super strict 3-4 and Freeney did show that he can still be disruptive last year. … I wouldn’t give him all the snaps, but he certainly should be useful.”
ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen this: "There's no question he can fit with that scheme. There are no strict 3-4 defenses, or not many … You take Dwight, you get his hand on the ground and play him for 30 to 40 snaps, let him get after the quarterback."
One of the quarterbacks Freeney will be going after is close friend Peyton Manning, twice a season. The two were longtime teammates with the Colts. Manning tried to recruit Freeney to Denver this offseason after Elvis Dumervil departed to Baltimore. Denver was considered the front-runner for Freeney, but the two sides couldn’t come to a financial accord. Ironically Denver signed Phillips from San Diego instead. Had Freeney ended up in Denver, it would have likely been Phillips who would have replaced Ingram. USA Today reported Denver had late talks with Freeney, but I suspect those were more cursory just to gauge if it could steal Freeney at the last moment.
In the end, I’m not sure if the Chargers are better than they were before Ingram’s injury. They spent more money than expected, especially with a hole at left tackle. The team is still talking to Max Starks and the Chargers will get some cap relief June 1 as part of the Jared Gaither cut.
But the Ingram injury and Freeney signing are prime examples of the always-changing NFL world. The Chargers were put in an emergency situation. I don’t think they could have responded better than securing a potential Hall of Famer as a solution.
A look at key players for each AFC West team who are coming back from injuries:
Denver Broncos: Center J.D. Walton is coming back from a broken ankle. He was lost for the season after getting injured in Week 4 last year. Walton is a young, promising center. The 2010 draft pick started all 36 NFL games for which he was healthy. He is a tough, hard-nosed player who has solid potential. Walton was building a good working relationship with Peyton Manning when he was hurt. Now that he is healthy, it’s time to continue to build that relationship.
Kansas City Chiefs: Center Rodney Hudson broke his leg in Week 3 last year and was lost for the season. The injury was particularly frustrating for Hudson because he was just beginning his starting career. The 2011 second-round pick watched as a rookie. He had a strong training camp and he played well before his injury. Now, entering his third NFL season, Hudson in a lot of ways is still a rookie. There is no doubt he is a starting-quality player, but he is still learning the game as he now adjusts to playing in Andy Reid’s system and to playing with new quarterback Alex Smith. For Hudson, this is another learning year.
Oakland Raiders: Explosive receiver/returner Jacoby Ford missed all of last season with a foot injury. The same injury cost him six games the previous season. Ford has big ability as both a receiver and a returner. He has had some terrific games for Oakland. But I don’t get the sense this Oakland regime, which has never seen Ford healthy, is counting on him. The Raiders have several young, promising receivers and they just signed a similar player in Josh Cribbs. Yet, the group is a work in progress. If Ford can bounce back and stay healthy, there will be a place for him. The Raiders would happily give Ford a chance to contribute if the foot cooperates. If not, he could be on his way out in Oakland.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are counting the minutes to get receiver Vincent Brown back on the field. They think he can be a star. Brown came on strong toward the end of his rookie season in 2011 and then was outstanding in training camp. However, he broke his ankle in the preseason and was lost for the entire 2012 season. The Chargers’ offense badly missed him. He is now healthy, and the Chargers are going to unleash Brown. He should be a major focal point of the offense. Brown and quarterback Philip Rivers were building a strong chemistry, and they will continue to work on it in training camp.
It is Sherman's combativeness, outspokenness and good humor that make him one of the more compelling figures in the NFC West. But as Fahey concludes, Sherman's brain might be his most underrated asset.
A Stanford graduate's smarts should not be underrated, but Sherman makes focusing on style over substance so easy. He has, in his brief NFL career, dismissed receiver A.J. Green as overrated, warned quarterback Peyton Manning, mocked receiver Michael Floyd, confronted Tom Brady, incited Steve Smith, played Optimus Prime to Calvin Johnson's Megatron, baited cornerback Darrelle Revis, put down receiver Roddy White, dressed down Skip Bayless, watched practice from a jetski and, perhaps most hilariously, claimed to have hired as a charity softball umpire one of the replacement officials notorious for his role in Seattle's controversial victory over Green Bay last season.
Sherman feeds off the attention, obviously. He has positioned himself prominently in any debate over which cornerback is best in the NFL, overshadowing a far more highly-drafted cornerback from his own division, Patrick Peterson, who goes about his business with only occasional references to his own prowess.
The analysis from Fahey affirms Sherman's status as a top cornerback while acknowledging that Revis, when healthy, faced more challenging assignments. Fahey concludes by pointing to Sherman's grasp of the rulebook, noting that the cornerback shoves down opponents once the quarterback leaves the pocket.
"This may seem like a cheap move to the uninformed, but it is the smartest way to stop receivers from making big plays against you," Fahey writes. "The quickness of thought to recognize the scenario and his understanding of the rules is something that not every player possesses, even at this level.
"Sherman finished last season with 64 tackles, one sack, three forced fumbles and eight interceptions. ... He is clearly an elite talent at the cornerback position who can play in a variety of schemes and scenarios against any type of opposition."
- Rams: The opener at Cleveland carries one big what-if scenario. What if the Browns had succeeded in their efforts to outbid Washington for the second pick in the 2012 draft? The Rams wound up trading that pick to the Redskins for a package that continues replenishing their roster. The Browns, meanwhile, missed out on Robert Griffin III. Later, on Aug. 29, former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo returns to the Edward Jones Dome as a member of the Baltimore Ravens' staff.
- 49ers: They face Peyton Manning and Alex Smith in the first two weeks of the preseason. They also have only four days between their third and fourth exhibition games. That could affect playing-time allotments.
- Seahawks: Manning, who ignored the Seahawks' advances in free agency last offseason, can expect a few postgame questions regarding his thinking. The situation worked out pretty well for all involved, as things turned out.
- Cardinals: Former coach Ken Whisenhunt, fired after six seasons with the team, visits University of Phoenix Stadium on Aug. 24 as the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator.
McCoy told Sports Illustrated he wants Rivers to complete 70 percent of his passes. Rivers completed 64.1 percent of his passes last season. He career high was 66 percent in 2010, and he has a career completion average of 63.6 percent.
Last year in Denver, McCoy helped Peyton Manning complete 68.6 percent of his throws. That was the best average of his career. Still, 70 percent is a lofty goal.
In the past five years, only one quarterback has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, and Drew Brees accomplished it twice.
Les from Philadelphia read our recent piece on quarterback victories over average and wondered if we could apply the same approach to other teams.
"Can you do the same analysis for other QB-challenged teams such as Philadelphia, Minnesota, etc.?" Les asked.
We can take a shot at it, Les. First, a quick primer on the methodology.
Total QBR measures quarterbacks' contributions to winning on a 100-point scale, with 50 as average. The scores correlate with a team's likelihood of winning a game. In other words, a team scoring 50 in Total QBR would, on balance, win about half its games. The chances for winning would be 75 percent for teams with QBR scores around 75, and so on.
With this established, we can calculate the wins over average a quarterback provides over the course of a 16-game season. We simply average his single-game QBR scores, subtract 50 from that number, convert the result into a percentage and multiply by 16.
A quarterback with a Total QBR score of 75.0 would provide four victories over average, for example (75 minus 50 equals 25, and 25 percent of 16 is four).
The first chart ranks 2012 quarterbacks with at least four regular-season starts by wins above average, based solely on their single-game QBR scores last season. The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson ranked among the NFL's best.
The second chart shows the quarterbacks with the worst figures for wins above average. These quarterbacks' performances reduced their teams' chances for winning by 1.5 to 5.3 games per 16-game season.
The Arizona Cardinals' Ryan Lindley (minus-5.3) and John Skelton (minus-5.0) top that list. Kevin Kolb was better, but he was still eighth-worst in the league at minus-1.9. Note that the figures for these quarterbacks project their impact as if each played a full season. Skelton and Lindley combined to start 10 games.
Les asked about Minnesota and Philadelphia.
The Vikings' Christian Ponder was 19th at plus-0.2 wins above average. His single-game QBR scores averaged out to 51.5 in 16 starts. The Eagles' Michael Vick (minus-1.5) and Nick Foles (minus-0.8) ranked lower.
We'll revisit this information as the offseason continues.
The chart below takes a longer-term approach. It shows wins above average over a 16-game season based on single-game QBR scores since 2008. I added a column for expected wins if these quarterbacks played for teams that were average in other ways. By this method, expected wins are simply wins above average plus eight. We might think of Peyton Manning as a 12- or 13-win quarterback based on how he played last season. Note that some quarterbacks making surprise appearances on the list played fewer games.
Peyton Manning appears twice, once for his work with Denver last season and also for his contributions with Indianapolis previously. The Denver-era Jay Cutler also appears. The Chicago-era Cutler has been far less impressive, checking in at plus-0.3 wins over average. That version of Cutler doesn't appear in the chart.
He has become famous for changing the language preference on teammates’ cell phones. He duped receiver Eric Decker into thinking he was being charged for a workout session at Duke this spring. In fact, right tackle Orlando Franklin estimates the quarterback has pulled a fast one on every member of the offense.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning has developed a reputation as quite the practical jokester in the Broncos' locker room.
It was Franklin’s first baseball game and he was treated like a player who had just hit a walk-off home run.
“Peyton and Decker, they got me real well last night,” Franklin told reporters in Denver on Wednesday. “I’m definitely looking forward to revenge at this point. I wasn’t really paying attention to it. That was stupid on my behalf, but like I said I’m looking forward to getting those guys back. I think a lot of guys are going to jump at that opportunity. So we’ve just got to plan something out real well for him and get him when it counts.”
Count tight end Joel Dreessen among those who want to get Manning back. His cell phone fell prey to Manning last season. Dreessen thought he had Manning once, but he panicked and admitted it to the quarterback.
“I tried to get him back. He was charging his iPad at my locker so I set a dog barking alarm to go off at like 2:00 in the morning,” Dreesen said. “[I thought] for sure -- he’s a study maniac -- he’s going to take his iPad home but he leaves it at my locker overnight. I got home that night and I was like, ‘Man, he’s got twin babies and I don’t want to wake his wife up.’ So I totally chickened out and I texted him that night, ‘Hey, I set your iPad to go off at 2:00 in the morning. Turn it off.’ He’s like, ‘Actually, I didn’t bring it home.’ So he shoves it in my stomach the next day: ‘Hey, take this alarm off of there.’ So I turned it off. I chickened out though. I regret that; I should have left it on.”
So, it seems Manning is still undefeated in the Denver locker room.
Brees, who plays in one of the NFL’s smallest markets, came in at No. 6, just one spot behind Peyton Manning.
Although we in the NFC South often talk about being overshadowed by bigger markets, Brees is proof that’s not always the case. Brees has combined his on-field exploits and his effervescent personality to gain awareness.
Even those that don’t follow football closely know about how Brees helped the New Orleans area recover from Hurricane Katrina. Rodgers and James came in slightly behind Brees.
But the real shocker is that Tim Tebow, who currently doesn’t have a team, topped the list of America’s most influential athletes.
With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each AFC West team’s agenda?
Denver Broncos: The Broncos had a good free-agency period and they had a good draft. They made a good team better. There is no doubt this team thinks it is ready to make a serious run in 2013. So now it’s time to find some chemistry. Quarterback Peyton Manning, entering his second season with the team, recently talked about the importance of getting on the same page with his receivers. Manning said it often takes four years to totally be in sync with the players on the other end of his passes. Manning not only has to continue to strengthen his connection with incumbent receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker but also with a new weapon, Wes Welker, one of the free-agent prizes in the NFL this offseason. The group worked together on its own last month and is in the midst of the Broncos’ offseason program. Manning had great success with Thomas and Decker last season, and I’m sure he will work well with Welker, too. The passing game will be the key to whether Denver can be a Super Bowl team, so building a special chemistry is the team’s most pressing issue as Denver inches toward the 2013 season.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have to get the Branden Albert situation settled. They talked to the Miami Dolphins about a deal for several weeks prior to the draft. It was never completed. Neither has closed the door on a trade, but the odds are good that Albert will stay in Kansas City -- although it's not totally out of the question that some other team gets into the picture. I think the Chiefs need to get Albert prepared to play in Kansas City. He wants a long-term deal, and if he doesn’t get one, he might pout. He has stayed away from voluntary workouts but said he will be with the team when mandatory sessions start. The team would still like to give Albert an extension after taking Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. Albert must realize that if he has a good season in Kansas City, it will increase his value in free agency next year if a long-term deal is not signed. This situation could be awkward, but both the Chiefs and Albert need each other for at least a year -- and they must all do it with a smile.
Oakland Raiders: It’s time for the Raiders to figure out their defense, where they might have as many as nine new starters -- a mind-blowing reality. It seems only defensive lineman Lamarr Houston and safety Tyvon Branch are safe. Second-year linebacker Miles Burris will have a role, but he will have to fight for a starting slot. Oakland must use upcoming organized team activities to build chemistry and explore which players are suited to which roles. Oakland could stay in a 4-3 base but also should utilize multiple looks and will likely see some 3-4 hybrid looks. Head coach Dennis Allen and his staff have to see these players on the field to figure out the right sets for the right players. Oakland is essentially starting with a blank canvas on defense -- exciting, unusual and scary all at once.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have a potentially strong group of young receivers. The once-weak area can become a strength not only for the immediate future, but for the long term. It’s time the Chargers figure out an attack utilizing Vincent Brown, Danario Alexander and rookie Keenan Allen, who could quickly become the centerpiece. Allen, a California product, was expected to be a top-30 pick, but a manageable knee issue dropped him all the way to the third round, where San Diego took him 76th overall. Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said Allen could have a Reggie Wayne-like impact. Brown had a strong rookie season in 2011 and a great training camp before a broken ankle in the preseason ended his 2012 campaign. He is now completely healthy. Alexander starred after the Chargers signed him off the street during last season. These three players can be major toys for quarterback Philip Rivers. Figuring out how to get the most out of this trio must be a primary goal for new coach Mike McCoy, who proved in Carolina and Denver that he can have successful passing games.
“Tony is more involved in the finished product,” Jones said. “He is more involved, unequivocally. I’m counting that in. That ought to produce some success. It will produce some success. I’m talking about the kind of plays we run, a lot of what we do offensively."
They're not messing around, either. Romo was called in before the draft to review and offer input on some of the players the Cowboys were considering, and the team used its first three draft picks on offensive players to provide support and expanded options for its franchise quarterback.
There are plenty of reasons this makes sense. Romo is an X-and-O nerd whose contribution to the offensive game-planning and play-calling is likely to be of value. And even if Dallas doesn't end up running the plays he prefers every time, his increased level of investment in the process is likely to help things go more smoothly for him and coach Jason Garrett on game days. This idea is not, on its face, a bad idea.
But it's worth examining what this means for the franchise in the big picture. The Cowboys are now, for better or for worse, all-in on Romo to an unprecedented and precarious extent. Signing him long-term and increasing the power he wields within the building means that Romo, now more than ever, controls the Cowboys' fate for the foreseeable future. The number of things riding on his ability to elevate the team to playoff-caliber and championship-caliber levels has increased dramatically.
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jason Garrett is 21-19 in three seasons with the Cowboys, including three years guiding Tony Romo at quarterback.
And there's Jones himself, who burst onto the Cowboys ownership scene way back when as a winner of Super Bowls but has, over the past decade and a half, become the butt of fans' angry jokes and a target of their derision. The extent to which Romo succeeds as Cowboys' quarterback is likely to determine whether Jones goes down in Cowboys fans' memory as a perpetually distracted, franchise-wrecking buffoon or whether he can pull a George Steinbrenner-type late-career reputation renaissance.
Romo's success or failure in his expanded role could affect the Hall of Fame chances of DeMarcus Ware. It could determine the career path of Dez Bryant. It will decide the way history views an entire era of Cowboys history -- either paving over the painful memories of flops against the Seahawks and Giants and Vikings and Redskins or allowing them to define a decade's worth of teammates, coaches and anyone else connected with Valley Ranch.
We knew when they signed him to the extension that the Cowboys believed in Romo as their franchise quarterback. He's shown potential for greatness, and their investment in him is their way of saying they believe his ability can and will override his history of falling short in the biggest games. What we didn't know until this past weekend was the unprecedented extent to which the Cowboys were tying their success to Romo as a leader and a football mind.
Given the extent of the financial investment, the importance of the quarterback position in today's game and Romo's own eagerness to participate at this level, it's not a bad move. Offensive play-calling has been a problem for the Cowboys, and if you're looking to improve it, why not involve the guy who's got to carry out the plays that are called?
If it works, they'll all be hailed as geniuses during some upcoming Super Bowl week in New Jersey or Arizona or New Orleans or wherever. But in the end, it's still going to come down to the way Romo plays. He and the Cowboys can do all of the improved, streamlined game-planning they want to do, but if Romo keeps throwing bad interceptions at the worst possible moments in the biggest games... well, at this point he's taking everybody down with him.
Breakdown: They aren't defending Super Bowl champions this year, but the New York Giants remain a prime-time darling with five nationally televised games in 2013. It all begins Week 1 in Dallas, when they play the Cowboys in a Sunday night matchup. They get a Thursday night game in Week 6 in Chicago against the Bears and a home game against the Vikings on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" in Week 7. They host the Packers on Sunday night in Week 11, then visit Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in Washington for another Sunday night game in Week 13.
The Giants get the bye week every team wants -- Week 9, smack in the middle of the season. And it begins the easiest part of their schedule from a travel standpoint, as their first three games after the bye are all home games. If the Giants are going to have another one of those "November swoons," it's going to be harder than ever for them to explain. They play only three games in the month of November, all at home right in a row after the bye against Oakland, Green Bay and Dallas.
One oddity is that only two of the Giants' final five games are division games, and both are against the Redskins. They'll be done with the Eagles before their bye week, done with the Cowboys in Week 12 and won't yet have seen the Redskins. The league likes when possible to pack the final few weeks with division games, and the Giants do close with a home game against Washington, but in the three weeks prior to that they play the Chargers, Seahawks and Lions.
Complaint department: Somehow, things look tough early and late. Three of the Giants' first four games are road games, and three of their final five games are road games. The Thursday night game in Chicago in Week 6 comes just four days after a division game against the Eagles. They'll get a well-rested Cowboys team twice, as they play them in Week 1 and then play them in Week 12 after Dallas' bye week. And if you buy the theory I've put through in every one of these schedule-analysis posts so far that it's better to get the Redskins early while Griffin is still recovering from knee surgery, then the fact that both of the Giants-Redskins games are in December doesn't do the Giants any favors.
Brother vs. brother: What's amazing about this schedule is that the Giants have those five prime-time games, but the game against the Denver Broncos isn't one of them. The prime-time networks must have tried to grab the game between Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his brother, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but CBS instead snagged it for a late-Sunday afternoon showcase in Week 2. The game will be at MetLife Stadium at 4:25 pm ET.
Giants Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 10, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 21, Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Detroit, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Washington, 1:00 p.m.
Breakdown: The Oakland Raiders are trying to improve their secondary. The group will be tested immediately. Oakland starts the 2013 season at Indianapolis and faces quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 1. In Week 3, the Raiders travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning in a Monday night game. In Week 4, Oakland faces Robert Griffin III and Washington. In Week 5, the Raiders play Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. So, we will learn a lot about this evolving defense early in the season. If the Raiders can hang on, they could control their own destiny late in the season. They play each AFC West foe in the final three weeks of the season, including a home date against defending AFC West champion Denver in Week 17.
Complaint department: The Raiders do a ton of traveling from Weeks 10-14. In that time span, the Raiders have one home game squeezed between four road games. The Raiders visit the New York Giants on Nov. 10 and go back to visit the Jets on Dec. 8. In that month span they travel more than 16,000 miles. Last season, 21 teams traveled fewer miles than that the entire season. But that’s kind of the way it goes for a team on the West Coast.
Turkey Day time: The Raiders will play at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Raiders lost at Dallas on Thanksgiving in 2009. The Dallas game and the Monday night game at Denver are Oakland’s only nationally televised games.
Raiders Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 15, Jacksonville, 4:25 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 23, at Denver, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, Washington, 4:25 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, San Diego, 4:25 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Pittsburgh, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Philadelphia, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Tennessee, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, at Dallas, 4:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Kansas City, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at San Diego, 4:25 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Denver, 4:25 PM
Having the Ravens kick off the 2013 season in Denver has been widely speculated ever since the Ravens were unable to resolve a scheduling conflict with the Orioles for that Thursday night. The Ravens become the first defending Super Bowl champion to open on the road since 2003, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the season at Philadelphia on "Monday Night Football."
This matchup has a lot of national appeal. It's a rematch of last season's epic, double-overtime AFC divisional playoff game in Denver, where the Ravens won 38-35 on the wings of Joe Flacco's last-minute, 70-yard miracle touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the final minute of regulation. It's also marks the return of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil to Denver since a fax debacle allowed him to become a free agent and sign with Baltimore.
When the Ravens learned that they couldn't play at home on Sept. 5, the team still wanted to play on that Thursday night even if it meant playing on the road. The Ravens see it as a big advantage to play three days before the rest of the league, because it gives them an extra mini-bye. This also allows the Ravens to get their longest road trip of the season out of the way in Week 1.
Also, the Ravens will play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Welker led the NFL in total catches over the past six seasons as a slot receiving star. Decker broke out last season, his third in the NFL, while working with quarterback Peyton Manning. Decker had 85 catches for 1,064 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
Decker told reporters in Denver on Wednesday that he is not concerned about whether his numbers will go down because of the presence of Welker. Decker has his eyes set on the big picture.
“I think this year we’re trying to play faster and at a higher tempo to maybe get more plays in,” Decker said. “Ultimately, there may be some passes or targets that are taken away but in the grand scheme of things it’s about winning football games. I want to get to the world championship. I want to have a ring on my finger. If that’s the case -- if I lose some catches, if I lose some yards -- it really isn’t a big deal to me personally because of what our ultimate goal is here.”
Decker said he is impressed by Welker already.
“He mixes in really well,” Decker said. “He’s a great guy and a great player -- we all know that. A stand-up guy, fun to be around, works hard. He likes to have fun in the meeting rooms and in the locker room which is huge for what we’re trying to build here.
“He’s got some toughness. I think just watching film on him, the way he blocks in the running game is going to be huge because [we] want to get better in that area. I think just his ability to catch and run after the catch and score touchdowns -- he’s a guy that you’re going to have to watch on defense. I don’t think they can key in on anyone specifically offensively just because I do think we have a lot of threats. The way we plan to run the football, it’s going to be a pretty dynamic offense.”
Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on Manning’s plans for playing a faster offense in 2013.