The Baltimore Ravens are coming off perhaps their most complete defensive performance of the season and this time the opponent was not the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens shut down the vaunted New England Patriots and in doing so looked as if they found new life in the legs of their defensive line and greater focus and playmaking among the secondary. You could argue that the injury depleted Pats did not have the man power to put up much of a fight, but for the entire afternoon the Ravens dictated, out-hit and out-worked New England, serving notice that they would be a tough out in this tournament. The things is, however, they are going to need to be even better this week in Indianapolis. Can the Ravens play their best game 2 weeks in a row?
Against the Run: Indy, like New England, is not a team that looks to run the ball a lot. They use it primarily to keep defenses honest, or to catch them off guard. It makes sense considering the strength of their passing attack. Indy also will use the run game effectively in the red zone, as evidenced by Joseph Addai’s 10 td’s. The good thing from the Ravens perspective is that their run defense produced the lowest yards per carry in the NFL and Indy only averages 3.5 yards per carry. It is imperative that the Ravens hold Indy under that number and they will need to do it without over committing to stopping the run. If Indianapolis has success running the ball, it will make the Ravens secondary that much more vulnerable. The Ravens seem to be hitting their stride against the run. Terrell Suggs is healthy and playing well, same will Kelly Gregg. Haloti Ngata is not 100%, but is still playing well. Dannell Ellerbe has also helped shore up the Ravens run defense. He moves well, has the size of a defensive end and can take on blocks well to free up other players to make plays. The Ravens should be able to limit Indy on the ground and force Peyton Manning to work from 2nd and 3rd and long.
Against the Pass: This will be the opportunity for the Ravens to show whether the improved pass defense of the last few weeks, especially last week, is for real or not. Like they did in New England, the Ravens defensive front will need to get pressure on Peyton Manning. I do not expect to see so many blitzing linebackers have free runs at Manning, but they Ravens will need to make Manning move some and disrupt his timing so he cannot sit back and deliver throws. Like it was in week 11 in Baltimore a big key for the Ravens will be forcing other players aside from Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to make plays. In week 11 the Ravens did well against Clark, not as well against Reggie Wayne, and will need to do a better job at limiting Indy’s ability to make big plays. Limiting the big plays has been a theme for the Ravens over the last month and a half. The secondary seems to be on the same page now. some of that is due to working out communication issues and getting Ed Reed focused. The other part of it has been the Ravens coaches figuring out what coverages best suit the talent that is still healthy. Chris Carr has stepped up his game and is playing well covering the slot. And last week Dominique Foxworth and Frank Walker played exceptionally. They also all tackled extremely well. The Ravens pass defense will need to force Manning into a couple of turnovers and continue to be physical and disciplined at the same time.
This is definitely a tall task. Like last week the Ravens defense will be helped immensely by an offense that wins the time of possession battle. The Ravens had a spring in their step in New England. The less they are on the field, coming off a short week, the better. Indy also has more of an ability to hurt the Ravens than the Patriots did. The Ravens will giveup more points, but they still need to set the tone by playing fast and physical.