This is the 13th of 16 articles that I will post throughout the season, previewing the Colts' upcoming matchup. I'll attempt to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, a few areas to focus on, and a couple of key individual matchups. Overview: Things aren't getting much easier this week for the winless Colts, as they travel to Baltimore to take on the 9-3 Ravens. Baltimore is one of the league's elite teams (beating the Texans, Jets, 49ers, and Steelers twice), but they have a tendency to play down to their opponent's level – their 3 losses have come to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Seattle Seahawks. Maybe there is hope that our 0-12 Colts can finally pick up their first victory.
- Running the Football. The numbers don't jump off the page (T-14th in rushing yards; 18th in yards per rush), but the Ravens love to run the football. Ray Rice is arguably the NFL's best all-around RB in the league, and is coming off his best game of the season (204 yards, TD). He's currently 7th in the NFL in rushing yards, 3rd in rushing touchdowns, and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. What separates him from most back's, however, is his role in the passing game – he ranks 2nd among all RB's in catches, and leads the position in receiving yards.
- Total Defense. Baltimore's defense is scary good. Their unit is giving up just 287.3 yards per game and 16.0 points per game – both 3rd best in the NFL. Offenses haven't been able to throw against Baltimore (5th fewest passing yards), nor have they been able to run against them (2nd fewest rushing yards). The Ravens are leading the NFL in total sacks with 41.0, thanks in large part to Terrell Suggs' 10 sacks. Their defense has also created 23 turnovers in 12 games, which is T-1st in the AFC. Good luck Dan Orlovsky.
- Pass Offense. I don't trust Joe Flacco as a franchise QB. He has his moments (and games), but he's been nothing more than a game-manager for the Ravens. He's completing just 55.3% of his passes, is averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt, and has just a 78.3 QB Rating. Although he hasn't been sacked all that often this season, he's an immobile QB who tends to hold the ball in the pocket for too long.
- Competition. As I mentioned in the Overview, the Ravens have struggled to blow out crappy teams this year. Baltimore is 6-1 against teams with a winning record, but just 3-2 against teams with a losing record. Their defense has been fairly consistent regardless of the opponent (allowing 16/15.6 ppg). But it's interesting to note that their offense is averaging nearly 4 fewer points against teams below .500, including 24 combined points in their losses to Jacksonville and Seattle.
- Dan Orlovsky (?). Clearly it's too early call Dan a savior for our offense, but he provided a spark on Sunday that Curtis Painter failed to provide for the previous 10 weeks. The Ravens' secondary will be a tougher test than the Patriots', but it was awesome to watch Wayne, Garcon, and Collie involved in the offense again.
- That's About It. Seriously, I can't think of anything else the Colts are doing well. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis? 5.5 sacks a piece. Pat Angerer? Injured – his playing status is in doubt. Very depressing.
- Injuries. Peyton Manning's injury has clearly crippled this franchise, but the injury bug didn't stop there. Jerraud Powers, the team's only productive CB, was recently placed on IR with a dislocated elbow. Pat Angerer, the NFL's 2nd leading tackler, missed most of last week's game due to a knee injury – and his status is in doubt for Sunday. Promising rookie DT Drake Nevis was also put on IR this week because of back problems. Our most productive defensive tackle, our best linebacker, and our only competent cornerback gone in the blink of an eye.
- Secondary. Here's a telling stat: the Colts defense is yielding a 109.2 QB rating to opposing QB's this season. Not only is that the highest mark in the league, it would represent the highest mark in the history of the NFL if it stands until the end of the season. The defense has just 5 INT's on the entire season, and just 2 INT's since week 3. Sounds more like a "bend-but-don't-TAKE" philosophy.
- Coaching. The team is 0-12, yet I haven't seen much in the way of change. Sure, we fired Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer (about 10 weeks too late), but the Colts' defense against the Patriots was still the same on Sunday. On one play, Wes Welker ran straight for 16 yards, turned around, and caught a pass with no defender around him – on 3rd and 14! How does the NFL's leading receiver not get covered on 3rd and 14? Also, how does Rob Gronkowski continue to be left alone in the red zone when he leads all TE's in touchdown receptions? No surprise onside kick? No fake punt or field goal? Nothing?
- Ray Rice in the Passing Game: By now you know that Rice leads all running backs in receiving yards with 547, but you probably didn't realize that 500 of those yards have come after the catch (4th most in the league). It will take a total team effort to contain Ray Rice when he has the ball in his hands.
- No Ray Lewis. Baltimore's defense hasn't exactly struggled the past few weeks, but it's worth noting that Ray Lewis won't be suiting up on Sunday. What a travesty to have a Ravens/Colts matchup without the chess match being played between Lewis and Manning.
- Line of Scrimmage. I don't expect the Colts to have much success running the football on Sunday, but they must do a good job on both sides of the ball at the point of attack. If the undersized (and under-talented) Colts' lines continue to get pushed around, the Ravens will win this contest easily.
- Young Cornerbacks. With cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Terence Johnson landing on IR, two young cornerbacks will get valuable experience the rest of the season. Rookie Chris Tucker held his own against the Patriots, nearly intercepting a deep pass along the sidelines. 2nd year player Kevin Thomas has been in and out of the starting lineup (and gameday roster), but figures to see action on Sunday because of the injuries. Let's hope one, if not both, can develop into a physical presence on the outside.
Final Thoughts: With the final month of the regular season upon us, Colts games become more and more meaningless. The outcomes, that is. This is still a very important time for our team. Can the veterans rally together and play some inspired football to carry over into 2012? Can young players develop quickly with some valuable in-game experience? Can the coaching staff finally find a way to best utilize our mediocre talent? Who knows. But while I may not be (realistically) looking for a Colts victory every Sunday, I haven't turned my back on this team. "Moral victories" are hardly ever a fair consolation prize, but here in Indianapolis, it might just be what we have to settle for.