Dallas Clark pauses after dropping a pass. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
DENVER — — The warning sign came early in the game, as soon as the first offense went onto the field. The Ravens started Marlon Brown, an undrafted rookie, at wide receiver.
That is not supposed to happen. And then came more problems.
There were numerous dropped passes and receivers weren't getting separation. Tight end Dallas Clark looked old, and at times so did slot receiver Brandon Stokley.
There were also problems with depth on the offensive line.
It was only the first game Thursday night, but we got a glimpse of some problems the Ravens might encounter on offense for the rest of the 2013 season.
The critics will put the blame on quarterback Joe Flacco who was off slightly early in the season opener against the Broncos, but the sixth-year quarterback didn't get much help.
It was drop after drop after drop.
It was disturbing.
And unfortunately, the Ravens probably can't get much help this season. They went to the trash heap near the end of training camp and came away with Clark and Stokley. There just isn't much left out there on the free-agent market. With Stokley and Clark, it was a buyers' market, a gamble to sign aging players late in the preseason.
But the real surprise Thursday night was tight end Ed Dickson. He was expected to form a formidable tandem with Dennis Pitta when the Ravens went to a two tight end offense.
But Pitta suffered a dislocated hip early in training camp, and the Ravens were hoping Dickson, also a fourth-year player like Pitta, would pick up the slack. Instead, Dickson dropped two passes in the first half, one where he was wide open across the middle.
When he dropped another pass over the middle on a third-and-12 with 11:50 left in the third quarter, you could clearly see the frustration on Flacco's face.
Meanwhile Clark looked slow and dropped a potential touchdown pass from Flacco at the 7-yard-line with 10 seconds left in the first half. The Ravens had to settle on a 25-yard field goal from Justin Tucker. Clark dropped another pass in the third quarter after taking a hard hit.
Stokley had some success and at times got separation, but his timing appeared off with Flacco. Either Flacco threw behind him or an inch or two away from his outstretched hands.
Denver's plans were clear right from the outset in attempting to shut down the Ravens' passing game. Nearly eight months ago, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith torched Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey for several big plays.
But Thursday night, the Ravens doubled Smith and bracketed him. There were times when the Broncos would walk a safety over toward Smith even before the ball was snapped.
That left the middle of the field open, but the Ravens couldn't capitalize. Once the Broncos went ahead 28-17 with 10:28 left in the third quarter, there didn't seem to be any way they could catch Denver.
The Ravens had lost right offensive tackle Michael Oher in the second quarter with a sprained ankle forcing them to use Rick Wagner, and the rookie from Wisconsin wasn't ready yet. It just revealed another weakness for the Ravens — their lack of depth on the offensive line.
The good news for the Ravens is that it is only Week 1, and you expected them to struggle going into Denver. They had beaten the Broncos in the postseason in January, and they weren't expected to match the emotion of the Broncos or their fans Thursday night.
There is still a lot of time for the Ravens to retool some things and for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to adapt his offense to his personnel.
But there aren't a lot of options as far as changing personnel, and what was on display wasn't very good. The Ravens have a franchise quarterback, but not a legitimate No. 1 receiver among the bunch.
It has to get better, right?