It's time to play the Colts in week five in Indianapolis. Once the Baltimore Colts, this matchup is always interesting for older fans due to the move from Baltimore to Indy. With the Colts, you get a great offense powered by Andrew Luck, the heir to Peyton Manning. Today we'll ask some questions to Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson.
Q1: The Colts are being hit hard by injuries. Injuries to Arthur Jones, the entire offensive line, linebacker, Mathis and so many others including LaRon Landry being popped for PEDs. Yet the Colts sit at 2-2. Most will notice that the two wins come against abysmal teams while the losses are to two of the better teams in the league leaving people to assume that the Colts just aren't really all that great. Are the Colts a good team that can compete against the elite teams or are they a bad team that will rack up a ton of wins playing in the AFC South?
A: Yes, the Colts will rack up a lot of wins playing against the AFC South teams and they’re still the favorite in the division. It helps playing in a bad (but improved) division like that. As far as they fit in with the rest of the NFL landscape, let’s look at it this way: the Colts team is about average when compared to other teams. But there’s one huge thing we must remember when talking about the Colts, and his name is Andrew Luck. The Colts team overall isn’t great, but Luck masks a lot of issues and as long as he is the quarterback the Colts have the capability to beat any given team on any given week (see their wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos last year). If Luck stays healthy (and so far the line has been much better at protecting him), the Colts won’t be an easy team to play and even when playing elite teams, they can win (doesn’t mean they always will). They finished within seven points of the Denver Broncos on the road in week one with seemingly everything going wrong for them. With Luck at quarterback, you can never rule the Colts out. I will add, however, that I think the loss of Robert Mathis could prove to be the final blow to this Colts team by the time the playoffs come, as that’s a loss that is very hard to overcome.
Q2: Speaking of injuries, the entire offensive line has been obliterated going into week 5. How will the Colts handle a Ravens front 7 that has been able to get consistent pressure and make quarterbacks sore?
A: The Colts offensive line has actually been playing very well this year and are one rated as one of the top-rated pass-blocking lines in the league by stat sites such as Pro Football Focus. Their run-blocking, while not great, has been much better than past years. So the Colts offensive line has been a positive so far - but as you mentioned, there have been injuries. Last week starting right guard Hugh Thornton missed and head coach Chuck Pagano has already said that starting left guard Jack Mewhort will miss the game against the Ravens. The rookie Mewhort has been playing well, so that’s a big blow for the Colts. The Ravens bring a lot of ways to get to the passer and it will be a huge test for a Colts line that, so far, has looked good. The Colts will count on that line continuing to play well, but also tight end Dwayne Allen is a fantastic blocker and running back Ahmad Bradshaw is great in pass protection as well, so if things don’t start off well in terms of protection, the Colts do have options to help protect Luck, even if it means keeping weapons like Allen or Bradshaw back to protect.
Q3: The Colts offense seems to rely solely on Andrew Luck tossing the ball all over the place as the run game seems to be stalled all the way from the Peyton Manning days. The Ravens defense is currently one of the worst in the NFL at allowing passing yards with 260.3 ypg yet are tied for second with only 15 points allowed per game. However, with no run game, the Ravens will likely pin their ears back to go after Luck and put extra defenders in the secondary to help out. Do the Colts continue throwing at that or do they really try to pound the ball up the gut? Can they succeed if they try and run on the Ravens?
A: I hope that the Colts keep up their game plan from the past two weeks, which has been passing to set up the run, because the Colts have the quarterback and the weapons to exploit even the best of secondaries (like they did to Seattle last season). The Colts do love to run the football, however, and so far their running game has been average. Trent Richardson hasn’t been anything special, but he’s looked much better than he did a year ago. Ahmad Bradshaw is a great all-around back, but he doesn’t play as big of a role in the run game as Richardson. The Colts will likely rack up rushing yards on the Ravens, but their rushing average per carry is what to really watch, and I’m just not sure that it will be great. I think that the Ravens should really hope that the Colts come out determined to run the football this game, because when the Colts do that they often handicap Andrew Luck. The Colts will certainly try to run and they’ll probably have average success in doing so, but for the Ravens, no matter how the Colts do running the ball it’d be better than Luck airing it out against the defense.
Q4: The bulletin board material for this game revolves around the rumors that the Colts pipe in crowd noise. As we all know, a loud stadium can make it difficult for opposing teams to hear calls and can lead to more penalties. With the Ravens second in the league with only 16 penalties, do you think the crowd noise (real or fake) makes and difference on the Ravens?
A: Well, first of all, those rumors are just that - rumors. The NFL investigated years ago (first in 2005 and then in 2007) and didn’t find anything. Plus, they all had to do with a completely different stadium than the one the Colts are in now - which, admittedly, isn’t as loud. I do know of a number of fans who were upset with Harbaugh’s "insult," as Chuck Pagano called it, and are planning to respond to Pagano’s challenge to be loud, so we’ll see. Regardless, however, I think that whenever a team goes on the road there is going to be that challenge of crowd noise, but I think the Ravens likely won’t find it overly tough to settle down and just play their disciplined game despite the crowd noise. The biggest threat of penalties when playing the Colts doesn’t come from the crowd noise but from Andrew Luck’s hard count at the line of scrimmage, which has already drawn quite a few penalties from defenses so far this season.
Q5: One of the guys with the most tackles in your secondary, LaRon Landry, is out after getting caught with PEDs. However Vontae Davis and Greg Toler have been doing well against mostly subpar competition and have been doing great in making big plays with turnovers. Yet the Ravens have committed only three turnovers so far. Who breaks… The Ravens keep their streak going with no turnovers or the Colts get a big play and the ball?
A: In all honesty, LaRon Landry has been one of the worst defenders for the Colts this year, so I don’t anticipate a huge dropoff in production between him and his replacement, Sergio Brown. The real strength of this defense (and one of the biggest strengths of the entire team) is their cornerbacks, which rank up there in the league as one of the best trios of corners. Vontae Davis has emerged into a full-shutdown corner through the first four games of the season (even against the Broncos and Eagles receivers) and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 22.6 when throwing at him this season - and that’s when they choose to throw at him at all, which the Titans didn’t last week. Greg Toler, the team’s number two corner, is solid but nothing special, and the Colts can count on him to do a solid job in coverage as long as he’s not getting flagged for defensive holding. The nickel corner, Darius Butler, has had a terrific season and has been great covering slot receivers. Speaking specifically of turnovers, four of the Colts’ seven turnovers this year have come from that trio, and if the team is going to get turnovers this week then it’ll likely come from them (or safety Mike Adams). I don’t anticipate a lot of takeaways this week for the Colts, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they get at least one.
Q6: What are the keys to a Colts victory on Sunday?
A: Andrew Luck. That’s probably an easy out type of answer, but it’s really true. If the Colts are going to win on Sunday, they need to put the ball in Luck’s hands and let him play. Offensively, the Colts need to pass to set up the run. Defensively, the Colts need to find a way to pressure the quarterback, which has been a continual struggle for the team this year. Oh, and they should probably be aware of that Steve Smith guy. I hear he’s having a pretty good year...
Q7: What are the keys to a Ravens victory on Sunday?
A: Get to Andrew Luck and pressure him. He’s worked very well under pressure in his first two years and took a lot of hits, but of course he can’t be as good when not having time to throw. If the Ravens can get to Luck quickly (because he can get the ball out fast if need be), then those hits will add up and limit his time to throw. Offensively, the Ravens need to target players other than wide receivers in the passing game. The Colts absolutely cannot cover tight ends, so if the Ravens have any faith in their tight end as a pass catcher, they should use him a lot. Also using the running backs in screen games and short passes can work - but often not as well as using the tight end. Be aware of where safety Sergio Brown is on the field and test him early on, as he’ll be making his first start at safety since 2011.