While I won't be able to join you for the 'Open Thread' I still urge everyone to keep it here on The Beatdown all game long to post your comments and thoughts as we cheer the Baltimore Ravens on to the upset victory and shock the league as well as the Colts and knock them from the ranks of the unbeatens just as we did two weeks ago to the then-undefeated Denver Broncos.
I'll be screaming from the Club Level in section 206, so if you make it there, stop by to have a cold one on me. Otherwise, park yourselves in front of the TV and join this thread as you watch the game. If the Ravens had followed my lead and confirmed my predictions on the previous nine games, we'd be sitting with the Colts at 9-0, as I've picked them to win every game so far in 2009, but for whatever strange reasons, they've decided to make their own decisions and look where it's gotten them. Unfortunately for that, the Ravens are teetering on the playoff ledge at 5-4 and desperately need a win today and even more so next week when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday night on prime time.
However, the focus is without a doubt on stopping Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, while also trying to get off the schnide and score some early points for a change, which hasn't happened since the fourth game of the season. Falling behind the Colts plays right into their hands, as being forced to throw in order to play catch up instead of controlling the clock and keeping Manning off the field by running the ball down Indy's throat is a recipe for disaster.
At the same time, expecting to totally shutting down their high power, almost score-at-will offense is pretty much a fantasy, so the Ravens will not only need to win the time of possession battle but the offensive fireworks one as well. Mixing in the run and pass, throwing in a trick play or two to get some quick points, plus utilizing all the key personnel in the run and pass game by spreading the ball around to a bunch of guys is our best shot. Using Willis McGahee to spell Ray Rice, especially in the Red Zone, worked so well in the beginning of the season and should return today. Same thing goes for the passing attack, when Joe Flacco routinely hit six or seven receivers a game, making it difficult to just take Derrick Mason out of the game and expecting the air attack to flounder like it has lately. Get the tight end(s) in the game to open the middle of the field and exploit the loss of All Pro safety Bob Sanders.
In order to do that on the offensive side of the ball, we'll need to control the trenches and that all starts and ends with the Colts' defensive line bookends. Slowing down both Freeney and Mathis will be a major challenge for our tackles but it is a possibility with the right gameplan. The same thing goes for the defensive side of the ball and once again, the trench warfare battle should determine the game's outcome. If the loss of Terrell Suggs cannot be overcome by a decent game from the rookie, Paul Kruger, then I shudder to think of what Peyton Manning will do to our secondary. A solid pass rush with different schemes, looks, formations and of course, blitzes, will go a long way to helping our secondary stick with the great Colts' receivers and not need to follow them all over the field as Manning sits back there fro five or six seconds picking us apart.
So once again, but more importantly than ever, win the trenches, win the game. And vice versa. I'm predicting that the game is closer than most people expect, although I'm still a bit leery as to why the oddsmakers had the Ravens even open as a one point favorite, much less remain only a one point underdog. They're usually pretty good at their jobs so something appears to be up with what many are calling a "trap" game for bettors, although the line hasn't moved much so it appears that bettors seem to be staying away from this one, although the point total for the game (44) seems to be a decent wager.
While I'm obviously rooting for Baltimore to win, I'd much prefer to see us get blown out by Indy than to have Matt Stover kick the game winner for them as the clock expires. At the same time, I'd love to either see new Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff do the same to them, but even more would love to see Stover's 45 yard attempt to win it fall just short at the end of the game.
For the first time this season, I am not picking my Ravens to come out on the positive end of the score. However, they will make a game of it that should give us future confidence for the Steelers game next week, that is actually even more critical than today's.