The Baltimore Ravens have posted an o-for the last five times they've taken on the Indianapolis Colts, including the 44-20 smackdown they absorbed last year in front of their home fans. The team was decimated with injuries and had just come off an emotional and upsetting loss to the undefeated New England Patriots only six days earlier. This time, they're coming off two emotional and upsetting losses, including one in front of their home town fans. Huh, sounds similar? I think not.
There is a huge difference between the current status of the two teams from last season to now. Both teams are playing .500 ball at 2-2, and while the Ravens are just 6 points away from being 4-0, the Colts were just four minutes away from being 1-3. However, that is the difference between good teams and not-so-good ones. The good teams find a way to pull games out at the end, while the not-so-good ones find ways to lose them. The Ravens seem to find a new and exciting way to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" almost every week lately, and until they find a way to win those close games against good teams, they will remain in the not-so-good category. In order to be mentioned among the league's elite, you have to win the close games and beat teams that supposedly are thought to be better than you. The Ravens have done neither while the Colts have floundered, but still showed signs of resurging to the upper echelon of the AFC.
In order for Baltimore to gain a foothold in the division, they will need to win these games and it all starts today in Indianapolis. Remember that the second half of the Ravens schedule includes all four NFC East teams, which is easily the toughest division in football. If we can't take care of business and sweep the next three games (Indy, Miami, Oakland), we could be in danger of being swept by that tough division and once again face the prospects of a losing season and high draft pick. After the encouraging beginning of the season, that would be a major disappointment to the team and its fans. Combined with the tougher schedule the Steelers have remaining, the possibilities of the Ravens making the postseason existed, but are much more cloudy after the previous two demoralizing last minute defeats in games the Ravens had the upper hand.
In order for the Ravens to win at Indy today, the obvious jumps out at everyone. They must pound the ball up the middle in the running game behind their two backs, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. Combined with the lead blocking of Lorenzo Neal, the Ravens must wear down the Colts front four and slow down their pass rush whenever Joe Flacco is required to drop back to pass. If he has time to find the open receivers, then the combination of the running game and efficient passing can put the Ravens in position to win. The Colts are missing their best defensive player, Bob Sanders and they have proven to be a much different team without him in the lineup. They are also missing other starters in their secondary and have not been good at stopping the run. The Ravens' past two opponents have been in the top of the league in defense while the Colts are ranked at the bottom. If they can move the ball, they will certainly be in this game until the end.
However and this is a huge "however." If the Ravens defense that gave up two long scoring drives to the Titans in the fourth quarter is the one that shows up in Indy today, there's no way we can win a shootout with Manning and his cohorts. With exactly zero sacks in the past six quarters, the pass rush will have to get more creative and find a way to hurry Manning, who will torture us if he gets any time to find his second and third reads. If he has watched any tape of the Ravens (gee, you thunk!?), he sees our weakness of covering the underneath slants of the tight ends and running backs. This could lead to huge days for Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai (at least Addai's on my fantasy team!). Rex Ryan has to come up with a scheme to take that away and put the pressure on Manning to throw the ball before he wants to and lead to turnovers we will need to slow the Colts down and own the time of possession competition.
Can we do all of this and come out with a road win? Just like the Monday Night Football game in Pittsburgh, while I thought we could win the game, I said there were just too many things that had to go our way for us to come away with a road victory. Unfortunately, I feel the same way today, as we have to bank on our rushing attack being huge, Flacco having time to throw and not make mistakes, our pass rush harries Manning and we get turnovers. On top of all of this is two other very important things, both of which have not happened when the chances came this season. One is that Matt Stover has to get on track in accuracy and distance, as he hasn't hit a field goal over 40 yards all season, and secondly, head coach John Harbaugh has to make all the right moves, rookie label or not.
I just don't see it, although I'd love to be wrong and have all you who pick the Ravens today to spring the upset post just that and come back to rub it in. It'll feel great!