Ravens (2-2) @ Colts (2-2)
The Ravens go into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week trying to end their two game losing streak, as well as to avoid becoming the first visiting team to lose at the Colts’ new home. The horseshoes are 0-2 in their new digs, having suffered losses to the Bears and Jaguars. In all reality, the Colts have just not been themselves all season, as evidenced by the stat rankings above. A Peyton Manning-led team barely in the top half of the league in offense? Hard to believe, but it has been the case so far in 2008, as the historically high octane Indy squad has had all sorts of trouble moving the football. As a matter of fact, the Colts could very realistically be sitting at 0-4 right now, if it were not for the inability of the Minnesota Vikings to score touchdowns, and if the Houston Texans were able to protect a 27-10 lead with 8 minutes to go. As the old adage goes, though, “good teams find a way to win.”
On the other side, the Ravens have fallen more squarely into the flip side of that saying, “bad teams find a way to lose,” over the past 2 games. Rookie QB Joe Flacco looked very rookie-like in throwing 2 (should have been 3) interceptions against Tennessee at home, but this week was named the starter for the rest of the season by coach John Harbaugh. This is the right move. Flacco just needs to keep learning the offense and getting a little bit better every week, and should not have to worry about looking over his shoulder now that Troy Smith has been back at practice. Smith could still have a role in this offense, whether it be as a QB in certain situations, or however else Cam Cameron sees fit, but “starting QB” should not be it. Those of you clamoring to see the Ravens start throwing the ball deep will probably be disappointed again this week, as
Tampa’s Indianapolis’ Cover 2 defense is designed to take away the deep routes (why they would bother staying in this defense against the Ravens is beyond us, but thats another story).
Both teams come into this game with banged-up secondaries. The Colts are without SS Bob Sanders and CB Kelvin Hayden, while the Ravens will be missing Samari Rolle, Dawan Landry, and likely Fabian Washington. We all remember what happened the last time the Ravens played the Colts with a depleted secondary, don’t we? Ugh. Peyton Manning has not been himself this season, after having preseason knee surgery, but Corey Ivy and Frank Walker may be just what the Doctor ordered for him to get back on track. Indy has not been able to run the ball worth a horseshit this year, currently ranking last in the league (music to the ears of all of us Joseph Addai fantasy owners, for sure). Nobody can run the ball on the Ravens. So we expect that, much like in the last meeting, the Colts won’t even try. They will probably come out running their no huddle and start spreading the ball all over the field, likely focusing on whoever is lucky enough to line up across from Walker. Harrison, Wayne, Gonzalez, no matter; Frank Walker’s man will get the ball.
The best chance the purple-and-black will have in this one is to get out to an early lead (which they have done in every game this year), then pound the ball out on the ground against the Colts’ rushing defense, also ranked last in the NFL. Willis McGahee should play, but is not 100%. Cameron should find ways to get rookie Ray Rice more involved in the McGahee-McClain rotation than he has been so far, as fresh legs out of the backfield will be the Ravens best weapons on Sunday. The Colts defense is small and quick, and the Ravens’ big, bruising offensive line, along with fullback Lorenzo Neal, should be able to impose their will. The question will be whether or not they can score enough points. Rushing the ball, controlling the clock, and keeping Manning off the field is all well and good, but it takes touchdowns to beat the Colts, not field goals, as the Minnesota Vikings found out in Week 2.
A strong running game will also help to keep the pressure off QB Joe Flacco, who will be in the crosshairs of defensive end Dwight Freeney all afternoon. Freeney is going up against Jared Gaither, who has played reasonably well in his first year replacing the legendary Jonathan Ogden, but has yet to see the likes of the Colts’ premier pass rusher. Cameron has said that Gaither will have help at times, but will have to hold his own 1-on-1 as well. Flacco should be able to have some success hitting short and intermediate throws, especially with Hayden out of the lineup. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens try to get fancy once they have the Colts committing to stopping the run, or if they just keep pounding it out. Of course, if the Colts get out to an early lead, it may be an extremely long day for the Ravens and us fans.
If Joe Flacco really wants to cement his reputation among the old-school Ravens (Colts) fans, beating the Irsays in their new stadium will go a long way, even if Joe only “vaguely” knows anything about the old Colts. Since he wasn’t even born at the time, we won’t hold it against him.
Unfortunately, we see this one ending up in the irony of Baltimore being the first victims of the Colts in their new home. More pain from Peyton and Irsay for Ravens fans.
Colts 26 Ravens 20