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The Dossier, Week 9: Colt 45, and two zig zags

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to “The Dossier” a weekly look across the aisle at the Ravens’ opponents, and how they stack up on paper. This Week 9 edition features a tough matchup with a sentimental rival (P.S. apologies on missing last week’s Dossier - complications with the day job left me with little time to put together a quality enough write-up, so I figured I’d take the week off. Regardless, we’re back in action.)

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After a nail biter of a loss to a hated rival, and a COVID diagnosis of one of their star players put much of the team at risk, the Baltimore Ravens haven’t had what you would call one of their best weeks in recent memory. At 5-2, they’ll be entering this week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts missing star LT Ronnie Stanley, who’s season has ended due to an ankle injury, and CB Marlon Humphrey — who is the aforementioned COVID positive player.

Furthermore, the statuses of several other players were up in the air throughout the week as they completed rounds of testing in order to be activated for Sunday. Needless to say, Baltimore is absolutely going through it right now.

It isn’t just them though, as their opponents this coming weekend also had a positive test come through, on their staff as opposed to any players:

With many other concerning situations in regard to the virus popping up around the league on Thursday, it may be worth questioning what the status of Sunday’s slate is ultimately going to be. As of right now, everything is scheduled to go on as planned though, so for our purposes let’s do the same. That means it’s time for this week’s Dossier – how’s that for a pick me up?

Baltimore travels out to Indianapolis to take on what may be their oldest rival (depending on who you ask) in the Colts, who are quietly off to a very nice 5-2 start of their own. Seeking a final shot at a Super Bowl ring, Philip Rivers made his way to Indy this past offseason and has had a decent first half to his 2020 season. With some nice weapons around him and a good defense on the other side of the ball, there’s no reason Rivers can’t lead Indianapolis back to the playoffs this season.

First though, they’ll have to get through the Ravens this weekend, who (even despite recent developments) are of course no slouch either. With that, lets take a look at this matchup, and what makes this team tick on both sides of the ball.


The Offense

NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Trainig Camp Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

We all know Rivers, and we know him well. He’s going to throw the ball weird, talk a lot of trash, make some big plays, and maybe give up some big ones as well. That’s been largely true in 2020 on a new team, except maybe without some of the big plays through the air we’ve known him for when he was younger with a more live arm.

This is reflected in his Player Profiler page where he ranks eighth in yards per attempt (with 8.1) and second in accuracy rating (with a 7.9), but 25th in air yards (with 1,671) and 23rd in air yards per attempt (7.2). As could expectedly be the case for an almost 39 year-old quarterback, the dialed-in approach may in fact be just what the doctor ordered. With six interceptions, he’s about on his pace for his typical career average in a season, but with only nine danger plays this season, Player Profiler ranks him at 31st in that category (which is defined as one which accounts for plays where QBs lack awareness or make unnecessary risks that could lead to turnovers).

While he’s been solid, Football Outsiders DVOA metric doesn’t seem to love Indy’s offense so far this year. At 22nd overall, they’re currently 20th in passing and 22nd in rushing, with a 15.4% and a –16.7% respectively. This has to be a concern for them as the only top half defense by DVOA that they’ve faced so far is Minnesota at 16th, though Baltimore is currently at 20th for the record.

As far as what they looked like against Detroit, I will say that I got a “better-than-the-sum-of-their-parts” vibe. I would sum up my reasoning for that by saying that they seem to know how to use their players, and the play design itself by Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was the right combination of creative and incisive.

One of the first plays they called set the template for that:

The next call that I really enjoyed came on their first scoring drive, the touchdown pass to RB Nyheim Hines:

Hines deserves plenty of credit for finishing this play in the end zone, bit he got sprung loose in the first place by an unconventional call. TE Jack Doyle (#84) comes in line late and draws the defense into the interior by faking as a lead blocker, while Hines comes in motion behind him, but then releases back out into the flat on a wheel route. Zach Pascal’s (#14) crossing route is enough to draw the Lions defense the wrong way, and a good pass from Rivers was all Hines needed.

Speaking of Pascal, he was a joy to watch in this game as well. A former undrafted wide receiver, he’s slowly made his way into the rotation of the Colts pass catching corps, and is a weapon in more ways than one. That’s on display in Indy’s second touchdown sequence as you’ll see below:

At around 6’2”, 215 Ibs, he’s got the ideal frame for an over the middle possession receiver and looked the part against Detroit by eating up some yards on the aforementioned crossers that he likes to run. He also has proven to be a swiss army knife in his abilities as a decoy. In the above touchdown, and a few other plays, Pascal was responsible for setting screens to free other receivers up, something that appears to be a key element of this offense – “Wink” Martindale will need to make sure Baltimore’s defense has their head on a swivel to avoid getting blocked out of plays.

While I’ve already mentioned Hines once, I’d like to reaffirm that he showed he has X-factor potential against Detroit. That was on display with the first touchdown, and is clearly the case on his second:

That’s next level stuff for a running back, and a perfect throw by Rivers to help make it happen. The Ravens have generally done a good job accounting for receiving backs this season, but as we saw against Kansas City, that’s something that can get off the rails fairly quickly if the defense isn’t correctly communicating. Hines grades out with an elite 90.3 grade from PFF in the receiving game, so the Ravens would be wise to keep an eye on him this weekend.


The Defense

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

If Indy’s offense is a bit limited in some facets, they more than make up for it with their defense. Per DVOA, they’re one of the strongest units in the league across the board with a fourth (-13.8%) and fifth (-28.6) ranking against the pass and the run, respectively. In particular, it seems to be their stout front seven that sets them apart.

Darius Leonard is the standout linebacker (84.9 grade from PFF), while DeForest Buckner is the star on the line (grade of 82.3), but there are plenty of other guys who stood out in the game against the Lions that I noticed as well. This is on display in the below play:

#97 is Al Quadin Muhammad, and the linebacker who finished up the play is Bobby Okereke (#58). These are two unheralded guys (grades of 60.7 and 48.8 on the season respectively), but they really showed up in this game. Muhammad in particular was in Detroit’s backfield a few different times apart from this one. The same was true of Tyquan Lewis, who despite playing significantly less snaps than the previous two (111 against 200+ from both), showed up with a very impressive spin move sack on Matthew Stafford:

If there’s a way to attack this defense, it’s probably to neutralize what they do best, and that means getting the ball out quickly, and avoiding the star players like Leonard at all costs. While their nasty front doesn’t allow much time to throw, their linebackers and secondary can be victimized if they can’t get home early. As far as their linebackers go, this seems to be mostly true of Anthony Walker, who’s played 174 coverage snaps to the tune of a 51.3 overall grade from PFF (and also gave up a touchdown to Detroit):

The secondary has some solid players such as Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie at cornerback, and Julian Blackmon at safety, but they’re not nearly as deep there. Ballhawking safety Malik Hooker is on the IR which limits their range, and outside of those top two corners, the next best player at the position who’s played significant snaps is Rock Ya-Sin with a 51.9 grade from PFF.


The Verdict

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The fact of the matter is, this is going to be a tough game for Baltimore, or at least much tougher than many would’ve though even just a week or so ago. The loss of Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey was already going to be a massive issue in this game, but factoring in all the practice missed due to the COVID complications, and you have some problems on your hand for sure.

In my opinion, this game is all about the coaching staff. They’ll need to show they know how to use players that haven’t gotten a ton of burn so far, and they’ll need to push the right buttons to get them motivated as well considering it’s a tough away game matchup after a very difficult week. Despite all of that though, I’m confident in them to do so.

John Harbaugh lives for this stuff. His team was the toast of the town a few weeks back, and now people are beginning to question not only their Super Bowl bona fides, but whether they’re even a good team themselves. Nothing riles him up quite like disrespect (contrived or otherwise), and in that sense I think he rallies the troops and delivers in a big (if ugly) way.

Jake’s Official Prediction: Ravens 23, Colts 21