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18 Things to Watch for in this Sunday’s Colts/Ravens Game

Yeah, I don’t think this qualifies as a ‘rivalry’

Last week’s game was one of the greatest of all time.  This week’s game?  Well, it should be pretty solid in its own way.  Indy travels to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in a matchup of preseason favorites in the AFC.  Indy, of course, is off to a 9-0 start.  The Ravens?  They are really glad they’ve played Cleveland twice.  They currently sit at 5-4 and desperately need to win this game at home on Sunday to stay in a tough AFC playoff race that might just require 11 wins to take a Wild Card slot.  Make sure you watch for:

1.  Watch the myth of the 3-4.  The next time someone says, “Peyton Manning struggles against the 3-4”, bring up the Baltimore Ravens.  In his career, he’s 5-2 in the regular season against the Ravens with 64.3% passing for 16 TDs, 3 picks and a rating of 106.2.  He’s never posted a rating lower than 80 against them, has been over 90 six times in seven games, and passed 100 three times.  Manning has no inherent problem with the 3-4 as a scheme.

2.  Watch the run.  The Ravens are strong running team with Ray Rice who is 2nd in DVOA and success rate.  The Colts have been credible against the run this year despite playing 4 teams in FO’s top 10 (Jax 1, Miami 5, Ten 7, NE 8).  The Ravens are 4th in running and very good in power situations and up the middle.  This is a major test for the Colts’ D line.  If they can contain Rice, it will be a positive sign for the rest of the year.

3.  Watch for points.  Indy still fields the #1 scoring D in football, but it will be put to the test again this week against the Ravens.  Baltimore can put points up in bunches, and has scored over 30 points in 4 of their 5 wins.  This isn’t the old Ravens team that won games 17-9.  Indy gave up big points to the Pats in the first half, but tightened things down.  Ironically, the Ravens best chance to beat the Colts is probably to get into a shoot out with them like New England did.  The Ravens are 5th in scoring defense (17 points a game), but that number is boosted by playing one of the worst offenses in history twice in 9 games.  Take out the Browns (3 points allowed in two games) and the Ravens PPG jumps to 21.5.  This game could make the scoreboard turn.

4. Watch for leaps and bounds.  When last we saw Joe Flacco, he looked like a deer in the headlights.  Since getting crushed by the Colts, he’s taken his game to a new level.  In his last 20 games since throwing 3 picks to the Colts, the Ravens are 14-6 and Flacco has thrown 25 TDs to 12 picks and a rating of 90.5.  He now seems to have passed 2008 rookie of the year Matt Ryan in ever possible way.  The Ravens have clearly found a QB for the first time in franchise history.  Considering how successful a franchise it has been, that is mind blowing.

5.  Watch for a step backwards.  The Colts running game has become more palatable in recent weeks as Joe Addai has been subtly effective carrying the ball.  The Ravens however are a stingy run D and are in the top 5 both conventionally and by FO’s rankings.  The Colts have shown a willing to go with what works this season, so don’t be surprised to see them abandon the run if it doesn’t generate much room early on.  This could well be the best running defense Indy plays the rest of the year, so don’t freak out if Manning decides to pass 50 times.

6.  Watch the screen.  The Ravens leader receiver (by catches) is their leading rusher.  Ray Rice does it all, and already has 49 catches on the season.  He’s on pace for 87 on the year.  How many is 87?  Reggie Wayne has passed that number only once in his career.  Indy has been good against RBs catching the ball this year (5th in the NFL in DVOA verses RBs catching), so this game could hinge on whether the Colts allow Rice to consistently make good yardage receiving.

7.  Watch the Dynamic Duo.  Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark have a combined 133 catches, the most in the NFL by a tandem this year.  They are on pace to break the all time record for most catches by teammates.  They are 1st and 2nd in the NFL in catches and 2nd and 5th in yards.  They are the Indy offense right now.  Both players seem to be hitting new highs and could not be playing better.  If the Ravens can’t contain Wayne and Clark, they can’t beat the Colts.

8.  Watch the sidekick.  The Colts must get more production from Pierre Garcon.  His catch rate fell to a miserable 47% after last week’s game.  Considering that Manning is completing nearly 70% of his passes, the fact that Garcon is catching less than half the throws aimed at him should be alarming.  He’s not getting separation and even when he does, he’s not hauling in enough balls.  Feel good time is over, Frenchy.  It’s time for production.  You get the feeling that if his play doesn’t improve quickly, Manning will be forced to start ignoring him.

9.  Watch the scorned kicker.  The Ravens just cut their place kicker months after refusing to invite Matt Stover to camp.  Stover doesn’t have a big leg, but is 6 for 6 with the Colts this year.  Baltimore has to rooting for Vinatieri to come back soon so the Colts can cut Stover, so they can pick him back up.  Ironically, if Stover hits a game winning field goal against the Ravens, he could potentially be helping to keep himself out of the playoffs.  Of course, if he thinks ahead and misses the game winning kick, the Ravens might never sign him at all.  Whoa.  Matt Stover’s life sucks.  It’s like a Greek play.

10. Watch the ramifications.  Caldwell’s been on “Wuss Watch” all year when it comes to fourth down.  He’s mostly fared well, but I fear the fallout from the Belichick call could tip the scales in the wrong direction.  Watch how Jim handles the tough calls inside the 45.  If he’s aggressive, I’ll calm down.  If however, he seems unusually timid, perhaps my worst feels will be realized.  I wouldn’t mind the Colts losing a game in the regular season because Caldwell wussed out. I’d rather us win one because he was bold.

11. Watch the Star.  Jerraud Powers was a revelation last week against the Pats.  He’s been a major star for the Colts this season, and is quickly becoming a very good corner in the NFL.  The Ravens really only have one true receiving threat, the ageless wonder Derrick Mason.  To put it in perspective, the Colts have four players with as many or more catches than the Ravens #1 WR.  If Powers can help keep Mason quiet, Joe Flacco will have to focus in on his lesser options.

12. Watch the Blind Side. Apparently there’s some little independent film starring some actress no one’s ever heard of out about the life of rookie RT Michael Oher.  It’s not a big deal or anything, and I hear they aren’t promoting it heavily.  I’m sure this is the only mention of it that will be made this weekend. This is why you come to 18to88, to find out things that you couldn’t get from just turning on the TV and watching it for 5 seconds.  What would you do without us?

13.  Watch for a chip on the shoulder. Bethea and Freeney both made big plays last week, but both caught a lot of negative attention as well.  Bethea was responsible for several of Moss’s big catches early, and the perception (false) was that Freeney was handled by a rookie LT.  Both men are among the best Colts’ playmakers and both will show up eager to make a statement on Sunday.  In fact, the entire Colts D should come in angry.  They played well after the early mistakes, but haven’t gotten any credit for shutting down the Pats on four straight plays to help win the game.

14.  Watch for the let down.  Indy played an epic game that felt like it should have decided the NFL season (maybe it did).  Baltimore played on Monday night in a scrimmage against the Browns.  Either team could come out flat this Sunday and no one would be surprised.  The Colts never seem to get too high or too low, and I doubt there is a lot of euphoria after they have been trashed and written off by many in the media after their terrible performance in beating the second best team in football on Sunday night.  Still, it could be a tough turn around.

15. Watch the injury report.  Both teams are facing a waiting game on key players.  Baltimore apparently has lost Terrell Suggs after a cheap hit by Brady Quinn.  Suggs has 3.5 sacks on the year for the Ravens, so his loss will hurt.  Indy on the other hand is hoping for good news from Bethea and Freeney (d’ouh!) as well as Eric Foster.  Football often turns into a war of attrition this time of year, and the game could come down to which side can field a healthy team.

16. Watch the chess match.  Manning and Ray Lewis are the two iconic players and their positions in the NFL this decade.  There are no two more recognizable faces in the NFL.  As noted above, Manning has owned the Ravens during the Lewis years, but like Manning, Lewis is still playing well at an advanced age.  He’s on pace for his most tackles since 2004 and also has two sacks on the season.  Manning will seek to account for Lewis and Ed Reed at all times.

17.  Watch for ten.  A win would give the Colts their 8th consecutive 10 win season, and their 10th in 11 years.  Before Manning game, the Colts had never posted 10 regular seasons wins since 1977.  22 years with no 10 win teams.  Ten 10 win teams in ll years.  Peyton makes all the difference, doesn’t he?

18.  Watch for ownership.  The Colts own the Ravens, and this isn’t a good matchup at all for Baltimore who doesn’t field nearly the defense they used to.  Indy shows no signs of let down and rolls to a 28-17 win.  Demond likes the Colts 23-16.