Ravens Secondary Can Prove Itself In Denver

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Cornerbacks are taught to have short memory spans.

So when asked about the 2013 season opener in Denver, in which Peyton Manning threw an NFL record seven touchdowns and for 462 yards in a 49-27 Broncos victory, the Ravens' Jimmy Smith joked that he drew a blank. 

"My memories of the last one? I forgot; I'm a corner," Smith said with a laugh. "Let me really think about this. Is that the one he put up seven against us? I did forget about that. I did."

The Ravens will head back to Denver for the first time since that dreadful night.

Many members of Baltimore's defense are still the same. Smith and Lardarius Webb will be the starting cornerbacks. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will be trying to pressure and take down Manning. The Ravens do have new safeties and different reserve cornerbacks, however.

A year after the secondary was Baltimore's defensive Achilles heel, and after a summer aggressively trying to upgrade it, the unit has a chance to make a statement in Week 1.

"There are obviously a lot of eyes on our group back there, but we have a sense of urgency just to be that voice on defense as a unit," Smith said. "It is a big game for us just to make sure all our communication is done, that in our first game, we actually look like the unit we want to be."

The Ravens have invested a lot into their secondary, and it's come a long way since 2013.

Smith first started to break out in 2013. Now he's one of the NFL's best shutdown men on the outside. Webb is looking to prove that he's back to his old self after a couple tough seasons and a recent hamstring injury.

Baltimore has molded former practice squad cornerback Rashaan Melvin into a potential starter and signed veteran free agent safety Kendrick Lewis this offseason. Lewis and Will Hill will be the Ravens' safeties instead of Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo, the two players on the back end at the start of 2013. Huff was benched mid-way through the game in favor of Matt Elam, and was later cut.

Smith said he expects Lewis and Hill to make the difference this time.

"I think Will is probably one of the top safeties in the NFL; that's my personal opinion," Smith said. "And Kendrick is a very rangy free safety. He can run and make plays."

Now this will be the first test, and it's a tough one. Not only do the Broncos have Manning, but they also possess two of the league's top receiving threats in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who finished second and fifth, respectively, in receiving yards last year.

"It's about as tough as it gets," Arrington said. "They don't make them easy, I'll tell you."

Manning shied away from putting too much emphasis on the 2013 game as an indication of what might happen Sunday in Denver. The modest veteran isn't one to create any pregame headlines.

"Two years ago – I don't know if that's still legal to even answer a question on that," Manning joked with Baltimore reporters. "It has kind of passed the statute of limitations I think."

Manning said the Ravens defense has some new players, but has "always kind of remained the same." He pointed to the run defense as the focal point and called the new safeties an "active bunch."

The Ravens have gone against Manning many times over the years (13 in all). He's posted a career quarterback rating of 101.0, thrown 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's thrown for a season's worth of yards (3,645) against Baltimore during his 17 prior seasons.

There's been buzz about Manning gradually slowing down at age 39, about his arm strength diminishing. His production dropped last year and he still threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns.

"Peyton Manning looks like Peyton Manning," Smith said. "He's still very accurate, he throws the ball on time, he knows checks, he knows all the stuff and he knows what we're going to be in before we're in it. We still got to be prepared for Peyton Manning."

Another strike against the Ravens is that Manning is generally better during these early-season warm months than the late cold months, like when Baltimore beat him* *and the Broncos in the 2012 AFC divisional round.

Since moving from Indianapolis' dome to outdoors Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in 2012, Manning holds a 115.2 quarterback rating in September and 93.6 rating in January. He's thrown 32 touchdowns to just four interceptions in September.

"You're in for a challenge no matter what time of year you play that guy," Arrington said. "He's going to come with everything he has, and we're trying to just do the same thing on our end."

Not everybody on the Ravens defense has forgotten that 2013 season-opening disaster in Denver. Suggs was asked whether he has any lingering memories.

"Tons of them," he said with a cold stare. "We remember it.

"The only thing that matters at the end of the day is wins and losses. We're not really trying to make a 'statement.' But we are trying to go in there and play a successful football game, and we want it to end in our favor."

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