Geoff Burke, US Presswire Colts defender Antoine Bethea ends the Ravens' deepest penetration of Indianapolis territory with an interception at the goal line of a pass intended for Baltimore tight end Todd Heap. (January 2007)
Today, we’ll take a look at the players’ approach to the loud, intense playoff environment in Baltimore and whether the angry mob in Mobtown will affect the play on the field. We'll also discuss the surprising awesomeness of Jerrell Freeman. We’ll also highlight some of the best quotes from this week.
Veterans Preparing the Young Guns for Baltimore
Six years have passed since the Colts Super Bowl run that saw them win a brutal defensive struggle in the Charm City on their way to the championship. The Colts currently have 32 players on their active roster with two years of experience or less, including 11 rookies. It is safe to say that most of the roster has never seen anything like the environment they will be playing in on Sunday.
They don’t remember the pyrotechnics, Ray Lewis dancing like a wild man to incite the crowd, or the crowd itself, which will be spewing more malignity than just about any group of fans in football, or the Ravens’ punishing playing style on both sides of the ball.
Fortunately, for the young guys, there are still a few players left who have been there, and won, 15-6, on their way to Super Bowl XLI. The crowd and the environment won’t be their focus. What matters is what transpires on the football field. “I think the crowd will be fired up and they will probably be yelling lots of good stuff for us,” said Adam Vinatieri, whose five field goals were instrumental in that January 2007 playoff win, “but at the end of the day, it’s the team that plays better between the lines that is the team that is going to win.”
As far as the screaming sea of angry Baltimore fans, Dwight Freeney said, “we’re not really worrying about it that much. I can’t say playing there is any worse than Philadelphia. In Philly, they’re booing us, calling us all types of names. With the Ravens, it’s the same thing. Maybe it’s more for our family that has to sit in the stands and have to deal with that, but for us, it’s not a big factor.”
Freeney’s assessment is interesting on another level. For all the energy a group of fans can spend on screaming and hurling insults – beyond the usual crowd noise factor, perhaps the only people who actually suffer for it are the ones in the stands. The players still are going to show up and do their job. They don’t care what any fans think their mother did for a living. They just want to win.
In Case You Haven’t Heard, Jerrell Freeman is Pretty Awesome
Okay, so there are many, many people talking about Jerrell Freeman this week. The Indianapolis media were in a Jerrell Freeman kind of mood yesterday, and it is easy to see why. Freeman has been a sideline-to-sideline tackle machine all season, to the point that he stayed on the field when Pat Angerer, a stellar linebacker in his own right, came back from a broken foot.
At the beginning of the year, Freeman was getting a high volume of tackles, but few big plays (save for a pick 6 in the blowout loss to Chicago). As the season has progressed, however, so has Freeman. He’s making more plays that prevent first downs and contribute the likelihood of a win. In fact, Advanced NFL Stats (yes, that’s the non-paid non-subscription advanced stat site) ranks Freeman 11th among linebackers in +WPA, or Positive Win Probability Added per game, and 10th overall among NFL linebackers. He is also 2nd in Tackle Factor, which is the ratio of his tackles to the number expected for his position. With 145 tackles, 90 of them solo, Freeman has the actual production numbers to back up all those advanced metrics.
One thing Freeman brings to the table that few know about is playoff experience. In his short time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he played in four postseason games. That’s four more playoff games than all but a handful of his teammates. Freeman knows he could benefit to a degree from his postseason experience, but he’s not going to pretend it’s the same thing as the NFL playoffs. “This is a totally different game,” he said. “I mean just that same pressure and understanding what you have to do. Win or go home, that whole mentality. I’ve played in some big games. CFL, like I said, total different game but the aspect of being in the games and having that same pressure I can say you can compare it a little bit.”
But enough about advanced stats and the CFL, did this seemingly humble player who came out of nowhere always expect to be playing football for a living? “I went to college to go to school first,” Freeman said. “Division III athletes, you know it’s not like they come a dime a dozen in the NFL. I went there to go to school first and whatever happened, happened. Just me working the way I work, I just work to be the best at what I do and it just so happened I guess I did good enough that a couple of scouts came coming.” Education first. He just gets easier and easier to like all the time.
A Few More Great Quotes
There were a few things the players and/or coaches said this week that simply had to be shared.
Robert Mathis on whether he will want to say anything to former Colts coach and Ravens OC Jim Caldwell: “Coach Caldwell has been around since my rookie year when I first came into the door, he’s been there. This is the first year I haven’t been around him. There is that respect and love for them. That hasn’t gone anywhere and he was our head coach and led us to a Super Bowl. There’s a great amount of respect for Coach Caldwell.”
Mathis again, with a quick assessment of Ray Rice: “He puts in my mind Maurice Jones-Drew. Short, powerful guy that has a great amount of respect, speed. He’s the engine of their offense. You have to try and eliminate him from the equation.” Colts fans are all hoping he won’t remind them too much of Jones-Drew.
Antoine Bethea on Freeman reminding him of Gary Brackett: “Yeah, he does because G.B. was one of those guys that he wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the strongest, but he was always in on the play. G.B. you could count on him sideline to sideline week in and week out making plays for the defense.”
Coach Chuck Pagano, seemingly breaking out some sarcasm about seeing how much Baltimoreans hate the Colts: “Yeah, because when this opportunity presented itself, I remember seeing the paper when I left town, I was driving a Mayflower out of town, so I fully understand.” They asked him if he really used Mayflower to move to Indianapolis, and he said, “No, I don’t think so. My wife usually handles it so I’m never there for any of them, so I’ve got to hear the end of that. Actually, I don’t know who did.”
Andrew Luck, who grew up and Oilers fan, on the whole Indy Baltimore thing: “I don’t know if I want to get too deep into what I know and bring up bad memories. I know about the Mayflower vans and all that. I guess as a football fan and having a dad who played for the Oilers when they left, you learn about those things.”
Luck again, on the angry atmosphere in Baltimore: “So we’ve heard. You figure any playoff game is going to have a great atmosphere. I don’t think we’ll get too caught up in that.” Once again, Luck says just what would be expected of a seasoned veteran quarterback. His maturity is one of many factors that have Colts fans hopeful for a chance at a win on Sunday.
All quotes were courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.
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