January 6th, 2013. AFC Wild Card Round. In what was the last time these two teams met, the Ravens dominated 23-9. However, the teams are quite different now. The Ravens had just snuck into the playoffs, while the Colts had surprised the entire league, riding a wave of emotion. Their coach, Chuck Pagano, whom they rallied around all year, was returning to the sidelines for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia mid-season. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and Andrew Luck gave the NFL a sign of things to come.
Andrew Luck continues to prove time and time again why so many people have anointed him as the next great NFL quarterback. Through 4 games in his 3rd season, despite average performances in weeks 1 and 2, Luck leads the NFL in touchdowns, completions, and passing yards. Luck’s completion percentage is 8% higher than last season, at 68%, and his quarterback rating is 108.0, behind only Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers.
With Baltimore (3-1) coming to Indianapolis Sunday, the Colts will look to continue their current hot offensive streak, fresh off 85 points in their last two performances. Even though those 2 wins have come against the lowly Jaguars and Titans, the offense has been in fantastic rhythm. It is critical for the Colts to get off to a quick offensive start, and get Luck into the flow of the game as soon as possible.
One major concern for the Colts entering Sunday’s game is the secondary. A team already lacking depth after losing Antoine Bethea in the offseason, the Colts are without LaRon Landry, after he was suspended 4 games by the league after failing a drug test. Not only is the team without Landry, but Delano Howell is out for the year after a neck injury he suffered in training camp.
The secondary concerns come with one major bright spot: Vontae Davis. Davis has been fantastic to this point, holding each opponent’s number 1 weapon in check. First, he held Demaryius Thomas to just 4 receptions. In week 2, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper combined for four catches all night. The past two weeks, Davis has completely shut down both Cecil Shorts and Kendall Wright.
Davis will be tested yet again on Sunday, this time by a savvy veteran, Steve Smith Sr. Smith torched the talented Carolina secondary last week for over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has surprised many with his production since joining Baltimore, overshadowing Torrey Smith as the number 1 receiving option. Smith’s career has seemingly been rejuvenated in the past few months since getting a fresh new start.
Another worry for the Colts is the defensive pass rush. Although the rush has been better the past few weeks, the rush has often been a feast or famine this year. Bjoern Werner has been a no show, Robert Mathis will not play this season, and Art Jones has now missed 2 full games. If the Colts want to defeat the Ravens tomorrow, pass rush from former Raven Corey Redding, 2nd year linebacker Bjoern Werner, and veteran Erik Walden need to be more consistent. If Joe Flacco has all afternoon to throw, he will easily pick apart the depleted Colts’ secondary.
This game comes as a benchmark for the offense as well. Even though most of the concerns are on defense, the Colts still have yet to pass an offensive test against a legitimate defense. While they have impressed, the only good defense they have faced is Denver. In that game, they only scored 7 points in the first half. While Baltimore is not a great defense by any means, they are better than Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and Tennessee.
On offense, Chuck Pagano has a major decision to make on the offensive line. Originally, Khaled Holmes was supposed to start, and play well on an improved offensive line. However, Holmes went down in the preseason, and A.Q. Shipley stepped in. Since stepping in for Holmes, Shipley and the entire unit have been successful. Andrew Luck has been sacked just 5 times in 4 games, the fewest number of sacks through 4 games in his career.
So the decision for Pagano remains: risk losing continuity between successful offensive line to get the center of the future in? For Pagano, he currently believes that “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” Pagano has decided to ride A.Q. Shipley, and to play Holmes when he feels he needs to.
The improved offensive line has positively affected not just Andrew Luck, but everyone on the Colts offense. Ahmad Bradshaw has been fantastic both on the ground and in the air, averaging 6 yards per carry. He has also scored 4 receiving touchdowns in the last 3 games. Bradshaw and lead back Trent Richardson have created a powerful 1-2 duo. If those 2 can impose their will on the Ravens front 7, like they did week 2 against the Eagles, the Colts will have complete control of the game. If not, this would not be the first time the Colts would rely heavily on their star quarterback.
Through the air, 2 Colts have impressed everyone just 4 games into the season. First, Reggie Wayne has been nothing short of spectacular. Returning from an ACL tear, they need him to be Mr. Reliable Sunday,moving the chains on 3rd downs. He has caught 23 passes for 307 yards. Another bright spot has been tight end Dwayne Allen. Allen has been a force over the middle, and will need to be on Sunday. The Ravens have been very stingy to opposing tight ends this season, but Allen does have 3 touchdowns.
For the Colts to win:
1. Clean up the penalties- a team that was the best last year at playing clean, penalties have plagued them so far this year
2. Contain Steve Smith Sr.- Smith has been great, but so has Vontae Davis. Can Davis shadow him enough to keep him from blowing the top off the secondary?
3. Pass rush- a unit that has been feast or famine, needs to have a big meal tomorrow
4. Spread the ball- the Colts offense is at its best when everyone is involved
In what is likely to be the most interesting 1:00 game, this game will live up to the hype. The Ravens are a good team, playing very well right now. But, the Colts are home, and Andrew Luck is playing lights out football right now. Colts win 27-23, on a game winning touchdown by Dwayne Allen late in the 4th quarter.