Colts at Ravens – Week 14 Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (0-12) have fallen back into the habit of losing pretty, after their comeback bid fell short by a touchdown for the second straight week. The Colts have looked good for stretches in almost each of their 12 games — the Saints game being the exception — but have yet to put together a full game. With only four weeks left in the season, the Colts are running out of chances to overcome their inconsistencies and win their way out of being remembered as one of the two worst teams in NFL history.

Their week 14 opponent, the Baltimore Ravens (9-3),  won’t make it easy on them. The Ravens are coming off of a 24-10 trouncing of Cleveland, whose team they hypocritically stole 15 years ago. They field one of the best defenses and running games in the entire NFL, they will put an extreme amount of pressure on the Colts offensive and defensive lines, and they will force the Colts to play a complete, focused game for 60 minutes, if Indy hopes to earn its first win of the season.

Tale of the tape

 
How do the Colts and Ravens measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.
 

Indianapolis Colts

Baltimore Ravens

Offense Defense Offense Defense
Passing 26th (28th) 22nd (32nd) 14th (13th) 5th (1st)
Rushing 26th (18th) 30th (28th) 14th (12th) 2nd (6th)
Total 29th (28th) 28th (32nd) 15th (12th) 3rd (1st)

 

 

When the Colts have the ball


 

Indianapolis Colts Offense Baltimore Ravens Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 93 DE C. Redding
84 TE J. Tamme 92 DT H. Ngata
74 LT A. Castonzo 62 NT T. Cody
76 LG J. Reitz 55 DE T. Suggs
63 C J. Saturday 53 WLB J. McClain
71 RG R. Diem 52 MLB B. Ayanbadejo
72 RT J. Linkenbach 95 SLB J. Johnson
17 WR A. Collie 21 CB L. Webb
85 WR P. Garcon 31 SS B. Pollard
6 QB D. Orlovsky 20 FS E. Reed
29 RB J. Addai 29 CB C. Williams


The Colts decision to bench QB Curtis Painter and promote QB Dan Orlovsky to the starting lineup for last week’s game against the Patriots seemed to produce immediate results. The Colts scored 24 points, their most since their 24-point first half against the Kansas City Chiefs back in week 5, and were a successful onside kick away from having a chance to tie the Patriots at the end of the game.

To many, Orlovsky passed the “eyeball test” – he seemed more comfortable, was able to make plays even when pressured, and was able to hit a lot of the short and intermediate passes that Curtis Painter was missing. Stats seemed to backup what they were seeing as Orlovsky completed 30 of 37 passes (81.1%) for 353 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, good for a 113.2 QB rating, the highest for a Colts QB since Painter’s 115.8 rating in the previously mentioned Chiefs game. Even footballoutsiders.com’s “Quick Reads” article, which ranks every quarterback’s weekly performance using their DYAR stat (explained HERE), had Orlovsky’s game against the Patriots as the 4th-best quarterbacking performance of the week.

But stats and eyeball tests can be a tricky thing – while Orlovsky seemed to perform well in the 1st and 4th quarters, he failed to do much in the middle periods. Then there’s the fact that he was facing a pretty bad New England secondary that, like the Colts, was dealing with a multitude of injuries. Still, while the performance might lose a little bit of its luster when you take all factors into account, to totally dismiss it would be wrong. The claims that Orlovsky did most of his damage against the prevent defense are really inaccurate – the Patriots continued to try to stop the Colts, they just failed to cover the receivers, most notably WR Pierre Garcon.

Further, the “prevent defense” defense holds little water in context. First, the Colts and Patriots are fierce rivals, and nothing would have been more satisfying to Bill Belichick than to hand the Colts a good ole fashion whoopin’.  Second, while the Patriots may have had decided to sit on a 28-point lead – though the only “evidence” of that is announcers/media types saying they did, the alignment/schemes would suggest otherwise – they surely would have quickly changed gears once the Colts scored the first and/or second touchdown of the quarter. The suggestion that Belichick and the Patriots were merely taunting the Colts seems like a desperate excuse, a way to explain away almost losing to an 0-11 team, once you realize that the Patriots were in real jeopardy of being in a position to fall into a tie, or worse.

Prevent defense, taunting, soft zones, all of that is out the window with this week’s opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. Orlovsky and the rest of the Colts offense would prefer the kind of game they got in Foxboro, as the Ravens will bring an in-your-face smash mouth defense to the field on Sunday. In place of soft zones will be tight, man-to-man coverage, where the defenders will look to get a stiff jam on the receivers and tight ends to disrupt routes. While on the back end, S Ed Reed will be roaming the field looking to intercept any errant ball Orlovsky throws.

In the running game, the Colts have found success against each opponent they’ve faced this year, but they’ve yet to face an opponent as stiff against the run as the Ravens. RB Donald Brown has made leaps and bounds from the “1st round bust” label that he had earned the past two seasons – he hits the hole hard, he runs through contact, and he looks much more confident and decisive. The question now is will he be able to continue that kind of play against a defense that is looking to punish him on every play? Will he be able to get up and take the punishment when the hole closes immediately and when he is hit in the backfield for a loss? It will be the stiffest test for Brown and the rebuilt offensive line, but if they are as good as they’ve appeared the first 12 games of the season, they should be able to do some damage.

The key for the Colts, in both the running and passing games, will be to limit turnovers. They will be able to gain yards occasionally, but turnovers will not only put their defense in undesirable situations, but will also force their offense to take too many chances against a defense that will take advantage of every mistake. Play a smart game, gain yards where they are available, take advantage of the defense when they make a mistake, and eat up clock. That’s the formula that will keep the Colts in the game for 4 quarters and give them a chance at their first win of the season. And a win is the one outcome that stats and eyeball tests both pale in comparison to.

When the Ravens have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Defense Baltimore Ravens Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 83 WR L. Evans
99 DT A. Johnson 84 TE E. Dickson
95 DT F. Moala 78 LT B. McKinnie
98 DE R. Mathis 66 LG B. Grubbs
53 WLB K. Conner 77 C  M. Birk
52 MLB A. Edds 73 RG M. Yanda
50 SLB P. Wheeler 74 RT M. Oher
27 CB J. Lacey 81 WR A. Boldin
30 SS D. Caldwell 5  QB J. Flacco
41 FS A. Bethea 44 FB V. Leach
21 CB K. Thomas 27 RB R. Rice


Stop Ray Rice. Stop Ray Rice. One more time, with feeling: Stop. Ray. Rice. That’s the key for the Colts defense entering this game. With his 1473 yards (926 rushing, 547 receiving) from scrimmage this season, Rice has accounted for over 35% of the Ravens total offensive production this season. Here are Rice’s stats from the 3 Ravens losses this year: 26 carries for 98 yards and 18 catches for 142 yards.

While Ravens OC Cam Cameron is not going to look at the Colts run defense and decide against running the ball, the Colts must try to coerce Cameron – who, in all fairness, seems willing to be coerced – into putting the game in QB Joe Flacco’s hands as often as possible. To do so, the Colts will play a lot of 8- and perhaps even 9-man fronts against the Ravens, bringing a safety and cornerback close to the line of scrimmage to help stop Rice.

The Ravens will undoubtedly try to test the Colts ability to stop the run in these fronts – after all, if Rice were to break through the first line of defense in a 9-men in the box situation, he’d likely be off on a long touchdown run – before deciding to let Flacco throw the ball 20+ times. If the Colts can have success – if their defensive line and linebackers can attack the Ravens offensive line – Cameron may decide his best option is to attack a depleted Colts secondary.

When Flacco throws, he’ll be throwing against a secondary that, in the absence of Jerraud Powers, is devoid of talent, skill, and size – a tantalizing prospect for any NFL quarterback. The key for the Colts defensive backs will be simplicity: understanding where they should be at all times, and being there; no complicated schemes, no exotic blitzes, just simple, understandable coverages, most likely zones. Flacco will complete his fair share of passes against these coverages, which will not be a bad thing unless and until the Colts defensive backs fail to close in on their man and make sure tackles.  If they can limit the Ravens receivers’ ability to rack up the yards-after-catch, they should be able to force Flacco into taking more chances.

At that point, there will be opportunities for the Colts defense to force turnovers – opportunities they will have to take advantage of if they hope to outscore the Ravens on Sunday. In the end, though, it all goes back to Rice. If they can’t bottle him up and frustrate Cameron and the offense, if they can’t force Flacco to throw the ball in bad situations, and if they can’t take advantage of some of Flacco’s bad passes, the Ravens offense will roll over them, build a lead, and allow their defense to tee-off on Orlovksy and the Colts offense.

Five key match ups

1. RB Donald Brown vs. Ravens run defense – When you take into account all of the circumstances surrounding the Colts – lack of good play from the quarterbacks, constant injuries on the offensive line, and a defense that has allowed the Colts to fall behind too early – the play of RB Donald Brown has been rather impressive.  Brown has rushed 90 times for 397 yards (4.4 YPC) and 4 TDs this season and is one of the best backs in the league according to DVOA.

Sunday’s game will be a good test for Brown and the Colts offensive line as the Ravens, who feature one of the best rush defenses in the league, will not only take away Brown’s time and space, but will also deliver hard, bone-jarring tackles. If Brown can continue to be successful under those circumstances, he should silence even his harshest critics that have yet to realize Brown should no longer be considered a draft bust.

Aside from wanting success to help solidify his status as a legitimate NFL starter, Brown’s (and the Colts) ability to run the ball, convert 3rd downs and use up as much of the clock as possible will be the key to Colts earning their first win on Sunday. If Brown and the Colts running backs are stifled, it will allow the Ravens fierce pass rush to tee off on QB Dan Orlovsky, leading to drive-killing punts and turnovers.

2. QB Dan Orlovsky vs. S Ed Reed – Ravens safety Ed Reed can make even the most experienced quarterback look silly, baiting them into bad throws that often lead to interceptions, so he is likely licking his chops over the prospect of facing Colts QB Dan Orlovsky.  Orlovsky showed some skill on Sunday as he took advantage of an undermanned and talent-starved Patriots secondary, but he will likely see very few of the zone looks that he had picked apart on Sunday against an aggressive Ravens defense that likes to play tight man coverage on the outside while letting Reed roam the field for interceptions.

The Colts can make Orlovsky’s life easier by realizing that unlike the Patriots, the Ravens lack the kind of high-powered, big-play offense that will force the Colts to press on offense. Instead, the Colts should employ a more conservative ball control offense. The best way for the Colts to lose control of this game would be to allow the Ravens to score a non-offensive touchdown.

If the Ravens give a coverage that Garcon or Wayne can take advantage of – sure, take that shot down field – otherwise, run the ball and hit the safe routes. The Colts should also look to avoid the middle of the field as that is where the Ravens are the most talented – linebackers, safeties, and defensive tackles. Orlovsky must avoid turnovers – and sacks, to a lesser degree – if the Colts are going to pull off the upset.

3. WR Anquan Boldin vs. Colts cornerbacks – Already thin at cornerback going into last week’s game, the Colts CB depth reached a critical point this week when they placed 2 of their top-4 cornerbacks, Jerraud Powers and Terrence Johnson, on the injured reserve list, ending their 2011 season. This means that after the presumed starters, Jacob Lacey and Kevin Thomas, the Colts will be fielding rookie CB Chris Rucker and a couple of players off the street.

The good news for the Colts is that the Ravens offense is not deep with star-studded wide receivers. The bad news is that they are facing Anquan Boldin – a big receiver, who, though he has lost a lot of his big play ability – is still a good route runner and can still use his size and physical play to overwhelm smaller and less-skilled defensive backs.  Sound familiar?  Smaller and less-skilled seems to accurately depict this year’s Colts secondary.

Boldin will get his catches, he is too talented and the Colts will be too focused on stopping the Ravens running game for him to be totally shut out, but the key will be limiting his yards after the catch. If the Colts defensive backs can make quick tackles and prevent him from turning a 5-yard pass into a 20-plus yard gain, they will go a long way towards keeping the Colts in a close affair for 4 quarters.

4. RB Ray Rice vs. LB AJ Edds – LB Pat Angerer was one of the few bright spots for the 0-12 Colts, which meant that he was due for a serious injury. In his absence, the Colts will start his former college teammate AJ Edds.  It will be Edds job to stop one of the best running backs in the NFL, Ray RiceHow good is Rice?  His 1473 yards from scrimmage (receiving and rushing) account for 36% of the Ravens total offensive output, one of the tops in the league.

Edds and the rest of the Colts defense will need to keep an eye on Rice in all situations – he’s as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield as he is a runner. While it’s unlikely that Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron will make the kind of gaffes against the Colts that he made against the Seahawks and Jaguars – where Rice barely touched the ball en route to Ravens losses – those games did illustrate a key point: if you can prevent Ray Rice from getting his yards, you will likely beat the Ravens.

While Ravens QB Joe Flacco has a big arm, he has yet to prove that he is the type of quarterback that can take over a game and carry the Ravens to a win if the running game is struggling. With that in mind, look for the Colts to “stack the box” and force Flacco to beat them with his arm. That strategy only works, however, if the Ravens can’t run against 8- and 9-man fronts, so the Colts must prevent Rice and the Ravens from having success in those situations. If they can turn the game into a Joe Flacco passing affair, they have a good chance of limiting the amount of points that Baltimore’s offense puts on the board.

5. Defensive Coordinator Mike Murphy vs. The Injury Report – Despite the 31 points the Colts surrendered in their loss to the Patriots, despite their inability to cover WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski, and despite the continued use of “The Cushion”, the Colts did do some good things on defense on Sunday. All of that goes out the window, though, with the loss of Powers, Johnson, Angerer, and rookie DT Drake Nevis.

New DC Mike Murphy must find a way to make his defense work with even less experienced and less talented players than the ones that helped the Colts to an 0-12 record and one of the worst defenses in the league. On his ‘Must Do’ list? Find a way to get some push from the defensive tackles so that opposing offenses can’t load up their protections against Freeney and Mathis. The pass rushing duo has been largely silent since the team lost Nevis, and if Murphy wants his unit to be successful, he has to find a way to get them going without exposing his defense to big plays in the secondary.

Next, he has to find a way to replace Angerer’s production both in the running game, where he was a tackling machine, and in the passing game, where his absence proved his worth on Sunday as TE Gronkwoski’s big day started after he was injured. One change we may see from the Colts is starting WLB Ernie Sims in place of LB Kavell Conner in hopes of tightening up the pass defense.

Finally, Murphy will be charged with finding a way to be successful with a patchwork secondary that features only one player, S Antoine Beathea, that should be within a stones throw of an NFL team’s starting lineup. The most likely method Murphy will use to attack this problem is to rely on soft zones. We lobbied last week for the Colts to play a lot of man coverage against Brady, as it was their best chance of disrupting his rhythm.  The Colts ignored those pleas and stuck with the soft zones, which Brady promptly gashed repeatedly. This week, however, the zone coverages should be okay, as QB Joe Flacco has shown an ability to throw more than one bad pass each week.

This is likely Murphy’s first, last, only chance to prove his worth as defensive coordinator in the NFL. While it seems unlikely – and perhaps slightly unfair, given the circumstances – overcoming all of the obstacles that face him will go a long way towards convincing some team to give him the job on a more permanent basis.

The injury reports

 Note: status isn’t official until Friday.  The Wednesday status is based on the Wednesday injury report and will be updated through the week.

 


Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Dallas Clark LEG (QUESTIONABLE)
Pat Angerer KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)
AJ Edds ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
Dwight Freeney REST (PROBABLE)
Anthony Gonzalez GROIN (QUESTIONABLE)
Ernie Sims TOE (QUESTIONABLE)
Ryan Mahaffey CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
Brody Eldridge HAND (PROBABLE)

 
Baltimore Ravens

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Chris Carr BACK (OUT)
Ray Lewis FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)
Matt Birk SHOULDER (QUESTIONABLE)
Ben Grubbs TOE (QUESTIONABLE)
Anthony Allen THIGH (PROBABLE)


 

 

Series notes

  • The Colts are 9-2-0 All Time against the Baltimore Ravens, and haven’t lost to the Ravens since 12/02/2001, going 8-0 since that loss.
  • QB Dan Orlovsky and TE Jacob Tamme have never faced the Baltimore Ravens.
  • WR Reggie Wayne has played the Ravens 7 times in his career and has accumulated 36 catches for 442 yards and 2 TDs in those games.
  • WR Pierre Garcon has 6 catches for 108 yards and 0 TDs in 2 career games against the Ravens.
  • RB Donald Brown has only faced the Ravens once in the regular season, where he had 4 carries for 10 yards. The Ravens were the opponent during the game that produced Manning’s famous “*** ******, Donald” scream.
  • DE Dwight Freeney has recorded 2 sacks in 2 games against the Ravens.
  • DE Robert Mathis has racked up 4 sacks in 2 games against the Ravens.
  • QB Joe Flacco has completed 51 of 73 passes (69.9%) for 497 yards, 0 TDs and 4 INTs in 2 regular season games in his career.
  • WR Anquan Boldin has caught 20 passes for 276 yards and 2 TDs in 2 games against the Colts.
  • RB Ray Rice has rushed 26 times for 94 yards (3.62 YPC) and 0 TDs in 2 games against the Colts.
  • LB/DE Terrell Suggs has recorded no sacks in his career (2 games) against the Colts.

 

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): CBS
Who(Visually)Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker
Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM
Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford
Word of the Game:  Mayflower. With the Colts bad, I’m sure the announcers will focus more on the team’s move from Baltimore 27 years ago than the game on the field.
Is the Game on in your area? Good question. The people at The506 will be able to tell you.

Prediction

Ravens – 24, Colts – 10

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