Mannings (9-0) @ Ravens (5-4)
What is it with the evil teams always coming to B’More in twos? Last season, it was the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers in back-to-back weeks for what could have been a glorious span for Ravens fans. This year, it is instead the Colts and Steelers, #1(a) and (b) in the “Hate Book” of many in Charm City. Unfortunately, the chances of double glory in 2009 are realistically quite a bit less than the literally-missed-it-by-an-inch 2008 two-game sweep that nearly was.
The Colts come to town fresh off what was easily the most exciting game of the 2009 season so far, a comeback win over the New England Patriots in which they scored 14 points in the game’s final four minutes for a one-point victory. Could they be in for a let down, after such an emotionally draining victory?
Well, we had better hope so.
One of the two remaining undefeated teams in the league, the Colts are leading the league in passing, with Peyton Manning AVERAGING 315 yards per game. Manning looks like an MVP lock at this point, as there arguably is not a single player in the NFL who means more to his team than does the Indy quarterback (which is why we just went ahead and threw his face up there in lieu of a “Colts” logo). Their defense epitomizes the “bend but don’t break” philosophy, as evidenced by their being ranked 13th overall, but #1 in points allowed. They have allowed only seven passing touchdowns all season, tied for second best in the league.
Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco will look to redeem himself after last year’s dismal showing against the Colts, when he threw three interceptions and never once found the end zone in a 31-3 loss. Flacco has significantly improved his game since Week 6 of 2008, but his recent showings against Cincinnati and Cleveland do not inspire much confidence that he will be able to crack a very tough Indianapolis pass defense. The Colts still have Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney up front, who have 8.5 and 9.5 sacks, respectively. Ravens’ young tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher will have their hands full with these two, and the pressure they can bring could force Cam Cameron to keep his backs and tight ends in to block more than he has all year. If you watched the game last Sunday night, New England used a variety of creative ways to “chip” Freeney, including having wide receiver bump him off the line. Ravens’ wideouts are hardly the physical type, so we don’t expect much of that, but don’t be surprised to see more two-tight end sets this week, with both Todd Heap and L.J. Smith.
Traditional wisdom against a team in the situation that the Colts find themselves in, that is, starting two rookie cornerbacks, is to attack through the air. However, that seems like exactly what the Colts want teams to do, so they can have their stout pass rush pin their ears back. Cameron acknowledged this week that Indy’s young corners are playing as good as, or better than, the guys they replaced. Sure, Randy Moss was able to shred them, but…well, you know. In short, the Ravens don’t have the firepower to trade blows with Indy like the Pats did.
If the Ravens want to have any chance in this one, they need to follow the lead of some other teams who have nearly knocked off Peyton & Co. this year, specifically Houston, Miami, and San Francisco.
- Houston won the time of possession battle by a margin of 35-25, despite gaining only 81 yards on the ground, by going an impressive 10/16 on 3rd down.
- Miami racked up 239 yards on the ground, and dominated the clock by a ridiculous 45-15.
- San Francisco kept it close by holding the Colts to field goals on each of their four red zone opportunities.
There isn’t a “book to beat the Colts,” because nobody has done it yet. There are, as you see above, a few recipies to “keep it close against the Colts.” Can the Ravens hope to employ any of these formulas on Sunday?
Dominate 3rd Down
B’More was an impressive 11/18 on 3rd downs three weeks ago against Denver, but are just 5/24 (20%) since then. Hopefully, back in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens can keep the chains moving like they did last time they played in front of the home crowd.
Bend but Don’t Break
In 24 opponents’ trips into their red zone in 2009, the Ravens have allowed 11 touchdowns, good for 46%. That’s 10% worse than their 2008 numbers, when they gave up 14 in 39 trips. Holding Indy to under 50% on the day is probably a best-case scenario.
We all remember one particular game against Peyton in B’More though, when he was touchdown-less, and went to the red zone just twice all day, but still won the game.
Run the Ball
Given Joe Flacco’s recent struggles, the Colts’ strong pass defense and small d-line and linebackers, and the fact that Peyton Manning on the field = bad while Peyton Manning on the sideline = good, there would seem to be no better time than the present for the Ravens to tap into their 2008 formula and re-release the three-headed monster backfield. Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee got back into the action last week to a degree, with 13 and 6 touches, repspectively, but it will take more than than to keep #18 planted firmly on the bench.
Come on, Cam. Break out all the stops in this one – unbalanced line, “Suggs” package, wishbone formation, whatever. Pound the rock and pound it good.
Speaking of coordinators, Greg Mattison will be under the spotlight Sunday too, especially if Cameron’s unit fails to control the clock and put up points, especially early. The Ravens’ defense has not allowed a point in six consecutive quarters, but that was against the Browns and a Bengals team protecting a double-digit lead. Peyton Manning could topple that house of cards quickly and mercilessly. Mattison seems to have no fear of going after mediocre QBs with all he has (see: Orton, Quinn), but for some reason prefers to sit back and let the better gunslingers pick the mediocre secondary to pieces (see: Favre, Rivers, Palmer). Losing Terrell Suggs only makes matters worse, as rookie Paul Kruger will have a tough first assignment in trying to bring down “twinkle toes” Manning.
The recommendation here is to, somehow, try to take both Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark out of the game (also, to cure cancer and end world hunger). The Patriots did a good job of neutralizing Clark, only to see Wayne explode for 126 yards and 2 TDs. The Colts’ young WRs, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, though having strong seasons, both looked a bit rattled and missed some plays against New England. Maybe looking into Ray Lewis’ eyes across the line will have them similarly shaken.
Grasping at straws here, I know.
The other potential saving grace Sunday would be a weather-induced ineffective Manning. “Whether” (ha!) it be a torrential downpour, or 40 mph winds like the ones that nearly helped the Ravens end the Pats’ undefeated streak in ’07, mother nature would be a great 12th man to have on our side this week.
Unfortunately, the current forecast is for 50 degree temperatures, just a 20% chance of precipitation, and light winds.
Where’s a Nor’easter when you need one?
Colts 31 Ravens 20