This is number six of 11 for my NFL playoffs preview series. To view the other click the one you would like to read below:
Oh goodness. This is a chess match and I’d be lying if I said this game doesn’t have me nervous as a Colts fan, but I’m still very confident. The Ravens have never won in Indianapolis. Ever. This is a rivalry though. The entire city of Baltimore hates the Colts, Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis have an immense amount of respect for each other, and Reggie Wayne and Ed Reed are best friends and consider one another a brother. There are tons of story lines that go along with this game but when it comes down to it only one thing matters: who plays better on the field. That is why we’re going to put all of those other things aside and focus on solely what will be taking place on the gridiron tomorrow.
These two teams are the exact opposite on the field. The Ravens are a team carried by their defense, they play smash mouth football on both offense and defense. The Colts are a finesse team that plays with speed and is driven by the offense. If you look at the most basic matchups in the game it looks like this:
Colts pass offense vs Ravens pass defense = Colts big advantage
Colts run offense vs Ravens run defense = Ravens big advantage
Ravens pass offense vs Colts pass defense = Colts big advantage
Ravens run offense vs Colts run defense = Ravens big advantage
Special teams is about even. The Colts are better at kicking and punting but the Ravens are better in the return game. This truly is a matchup of strengths vs weaknesses. Coaching I would have to give the advantage to the Colts, which may be what decides this game. True, head coach Jim Caldwell is only in his first season as head coach, but Tom Moore, Larry Coyer, Howard Mudd and John Teerlinck (the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, offensive line coach, defensive line coach respectively) combine for ninety years of experience coaching in the NFL.
If you’re wondering about the rust vs rest impact of the Colts resting starters, according to John Oehser the Colts are as healthy as they’ve been all season, if not more so. Not a single player missed any practice this week due to injuries (or any other reason) and that is the first time this has happened for the Colts all year. Coach Caldwell said of last week’s practices “we were able to get a lot of work done, maybe the three best practices we’ve had in a long time.” Most notably, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the healthiest they’ve been all season, which means that if and when the Ravens are in passing situations he’s going to be under a lot of pressure.
For the Ravens they need to make sure they don’t abandon the run too early. If the Colts jump out to an early lead the Ravens mustn’t panic and think that they need to start throwing the ball more to keep up. That will play right into the Colts hands. However if the Ravens find themselves in third and long situations they need to be able to use the passing game effectively to convert in those circumstances. They can’t settle for punts and field goals if they want to win this game. They need to score touchdowns. The Ravens would ideally like to avoid that all together but to do that they must win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The blockers need to make their initial blocks, release, and get to the second level.
On the defensive side of the ball the Ravens again need to make sure they win at the line. This will be an intriguing matchup. The Colts are more athletic on the line but much smaller. The Ravens run a 3-4, so the linemen will try to occupy the blockers and make room for blitzing linebackers, who must get pressure on Peyton Manning. The problem is that the secondary of the Ravens has struggled this year and their pass rush hasn’t been up to par. If the Ravens bring more blitzers then they will have to leave their defensive backs in man coverage, which will cause matchup problems to the advantage of the Colts if Peyton gets rid of the ball quickly. The Ravens could also bring pressure with only three of four players and sit back in zone coverage, but giving Peyton that much time in the pocket is also dangerous. Finally the Ravens defense will need to disguise their schemes, coverages and blitzes without being caught off guard and out of position, which is a very thin line to walk when facing the Colts offense.
The Colts defense will be looking to get an effective pass rush from the defensive tackles, because they know they can get it from the ends, so if they can get pressure up the middle and off the edge it will likely be devastating for the Ravens. Joe Flacco has a hip injury that is giving him some real problems with his mobility in the pocket and throwing motion, both of which are huge advantages for the Colts. The Colts also need to make sure they get at least one or two early stops. If they can then that will allow the offense to get the early lead that they love to play with so much, especially against running offenses. Time of possession isn’t a huge deal in this game, but dictating the pace of the game is. The Colts want to play fast and they can’t allow the Ravens to counter that by drawing out long drives with a lot of running plays. Getting a two (or more) possession lead will help the cause. That will put the game on Joe Flacco’s shoulders rather than Ray Rice.
Offensively the Colts just need to be the Colts. The Ravens secondary is injured and thin. Ed Reed is a stud but the corners that will be playing are Chris Carr, Frank Walker and Dominique Foxworth. It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to stop Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie. When you then also take Dallas Clark into account, who is a mismatch for the Ravens linebacker but is too physical for the Ravens corners, it is likely that Ed Reed will have to cover him. The Colts multi-receiver sets are going to cause fits for the Ravens personnel and their sub packages.
I’d expect Peyton Manning to have a triple-digit passer rating with at least 300 yards and two touchdowns, while Flacco will probably have a rating down near 80 with less than 200 yards and probably only one touchdown. Both quarterbacks will probably throw one touchdown in this one. Yes, I’m predicting Peyton throws a pick, but it’s much more likely that Facco throws multiple. Ray Rice will probably have over 100 yards on the ground with a touchdown. The Colts will look to keep him under 125 and the Ravens as a team under 150 total yards on the ground. On the other side Joseph Addai and Donald Brown will be looking to combine for a around 60 yards on the ground to aid the stellar passing game. I think the Colts will force at least three sacks and two turnovers on defense and the Ravens will get to Peyton Manning twice and getting a turnover or two themselves.
As I said before, the main piece in all of this is dictating the speed of the game. Both teams succeed at this so it’ll be interesting to see who does it this time. The main difference I see is that if the Colts control the pace of the game, then the Ravens basically have no chance because they can’t score fast enough, but if the Ravens control the pace of the game then the Colts at least still have a chance, as they proved when they beat the Ravens earlier this season, as well as when they beat the Dolphins when Ronnie Brown had a heyday.
Colts win 31-24.
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