The Ravens are set to take on the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 3rd (401.1 ypg) Total Defense – 13th (322.7)
Rush Offense – 29th (86.0) Rush Defense – T14th (108.7)
Pass Offense – 1st (315.1) Pass Defense – 16th (214.0)
Points Per Game – 4th (28.0) Points Per Game – 1st (15.8)
Sizing Them Up
Even thought Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy turned over control of the team to first time head coach Jim Caldwell, the Colts have not missed a beat. Why? It is largely because of the leadership nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning and the high-powered offense he orchestrates.
For each of Manning's 12 seasons in Indianapolis, he's had the same offensive coordinator in Tom Moore and same offensive line coach in Howard Mudd. Even Caldwell, the former quarterbacks coach has been there since 2002.
Manning distributes the football to multiple targets, but his more prolific weapons are wideout Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Both Wayne and Clark have over 60 receptions and average at least 12.0 yards per catch.
The rushing attack is led by a two-headed backfield in the versatile Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown, a first-round draft pick this year.
Defensively, the Colts' have a unit that is built on speed and quickness. One only has to look at the most dynamic pair of defensive ends in the NFL with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Freeney tied a league record with sacks in his first eight games this season, while Mathis is just one season removed from 11.5 sacks. They do it with an array of moves to get past bigger offensive tackles.
Indianapolis' secondary is dealing with injuries, as a pair of rookie cornerbacks in Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey could be starting because Marlin Jackson is done for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Kelvin Hayden has not practiced all week with a knee injury.
What's Up?* *
Matt Dollinger of Colts.com thinks that Indy's nail-biting win over the New England Patriots last week was good for several inexperienced players.
"While veterans like Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney are experiencing their third 9-0 start in five seasons, several Colts players, such as rookies Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey and Kyle DeVan, are new to the team's success and played Sunday night in one of the most critical games of their short careers."
Phillip B. Wilson from the Indianapolis Star offers some insight into why the Colts need help at returner.
"Kickoffs and punts can be an unpredictable element from week to week. And as Colts fans will remind, this team hasn't exactly set the world on fire when returning kicks."
The Star's Phil Richards has a piece about how Colts linebacker Gary Brackett thought of Ray Rice as his protégé.
"[Rice] is a second-year player from Rutgers. Brackett is a seven-year veteran from the same school whose best friend was a Rutgers classmate, Baltimore tight end L.J. Smith."
Offensive – This offense starts and stops with Manning, who is making unknown players like receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie look like big-time targets. With his demonstrative feints at the line of scrimmage and pinpoint accuracy, Manning is playing some of the best football of his career, leading the NFL completions (249), attempts (357), completion percentage (69.7), passing yards (2,872) and touchdowns (20).
Defensive – Freeney would have to take this award. When one thinks of the Colts' defense, it's hard not to first picture Freeney's whirling-dervish spin off the edge and him taking down a quarterback. He is Indy's career leader in sacks with 80. He also sets the edge to play the run better than he's given credit for.
WR Austin Collie
He may benefit from Manning's accuracy and the presence of Clark and Wayne, but Collie is showing that he can thrive in this offense. Mainly a slot receiver, the fourth-round draft pick out of BYU is third on the team with 38 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
The Ravens will probably have to send in some help for the two young offensive tackles when handling the Colts' pass rushers, but if Gaither and Oher can hold their own, it will be a better day for Joe Flacco. Mathis logged three sacks last year when these two teams faced each other, but that was mostly on Willie Anderson. Oher has held his own all year, including against the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Colts S Antoine Bethea
As mentioned before, Indianapolis is banged up in the secondary. With Bob Sanders out, Bethea has taken on more of a leadership role. He leads the Colts with 79 tackles and three interceptions. Flacco would help the Ravens' cause if he can exploit some of those holes in the defensive backfield by airing it out. Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton must come up with some catches this week.
Caldwell on what he sees different about this Ravens' defense than he saw when they played last year: "Well, I don't see anything that's different in terms of, they're still a great defense. You know, that's quite evident. They have maybe one of the best linebackers to ever play the game, still, a real formidable force in the middle in Ray Lewis. As well as up front, there's Trevor Pryce and [Jarret] Johnson, who's got six sacks. And then you look in the secondary and you've got Ed Reed, who is as talented as any safety that's ever played the game. They're full of talented guys that play, and play extremely well."
Manning on if he's aware that he's won his last six games against the Ravens:"I really hadn't thought about it just because it's so week to week and year to year. I had a chance to spend some time with Coach [John] Harbaugh this past year out at the Pro Bowl, and boy, what an impressive, impressive coach. You can see why they had such a great year last year. You can see why their team is always prepared to play. Like I said, 2009 is a totally different season. This game will have its own identity. Obviously, we're hoping we can make enough plays to win it, but it'll be tough."
With Peyton Manning coming to town and a Ravens secondary that has had problems with big-time passers in the past, it is going to be imperative to get into the backfield and rattle No. 18.
And without Terrell Suggs in the game, that's going to be a lot tougher. Last week, we saw the Ravens get pressure on Cleveland's Brady Quinn with only four or five players, with an occasional blitz sprinkled in there.
Now, Manning is obviously on a higher plane than Quinn. He rarely takes sacks – only eight on the year so far – because he is quick to throw out of bounds when he smells heat. If he does that, however, it is just as good as getting a sack.
Getting in Manning's face is the best way to throw his rhythm slightly off kilter. The Patriots had some success doing just that in their recent Sunday night game against Indy, and even though they lost, it did come down to a desperation Manning drive for the Colts to win.
The Ravens' offense should bounce back from a lackluster performance in Cleveland. Ray Rice has been racking up the yards both catching and receiving, and Joe Flacco has been working hard all week to get the aerial attack humming again.
But if the Ravens cannot slow down the Colts' offensive juggernaut and keep pace with Manning and Co., it could be a long day in Baltimore.