Back on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts staged a tight contest at M&T Bank Stadium that went down to the wire, with the Ravens coming up on the losing end by a 17-15 score. In that game the Ravens offense had plenty of success moving the ball between the 20 yard-lines against the Colts defense, with several time consuming drives that kept the Peyton Manning and the offense off the field. However, they could not finish those drives with touchdowns; they were forced to settle for field goals. I think it’s safe to say that in this upcoming matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Ravens will have to do a better job of putting points on the board or they risk another defeat.
Passing Game: With Joe Flacco limited with a bad hip on Sunday (and the running game working so well), he had ten passing attempts against New England in the wildcard round. However, in the previous game against the Colts, Flacco had good success throwing the ball, completing 23 of 35 pass attempts for 256 yards. While he did not throw a touchdown pass, everyone remembers the interception that stopped the potential game-winning drive in the late stages of the game. His favorite target that day was Derrick Mason, who caught nine passes for 145 yards. Since that game, Flacco has been inconsistent with some good games offset by some lackluster efforts. He has been less than stellar recently as his injuries have become more bothersome. The Colts will probably attempt to replicate the standard game plan against the Ravens, which is to take Mason away from Flacco and force him to find some other targets to beat them. That means that Ray Rice, Kelley Washington, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams (if he’s not in the doghouse) and Todd Heap must become factors and find ways to get open against the defense. Another concern of the passing game will be whether or not the offensive line can contain the Colt pass rush, specifically Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. With the Colts having rested their starters most of the last two regular season games and having a subsequent bye week you can bet they will be ready to get after the quarterback. The O-line, particularly tackles Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, will have their hands full.
Running Game: The Ravens’ outstanding efforts running the ball against New England served to remind their fans and the rest of the league that they can pound the ball with the best of them. The 234 yards gained against the Patriots was a great effort as the line blocked as well as they have all season. Ray Rice set the tone for the game with an 83-yard run on the offense’s first play from scrimmage. The yards were harder to come by against the Colts back in November; though Rice did get 71 yards rushing, the team only had 98 yards total on the ground with a 3.2 yard-per-carry average. I think the Ravens will need the ground game to help run time off the clock; the best defense against the Colts could be a good offense. That means that again, the O-line will play a big part in determining the outcome of the game. If the defense can keep the game close, the running game should have plenty of opportunities to wear down the smaller defensive players on the Colts defensive front. If they can be successful on the ground with the three-headed monster, there should be some opportunities for Flacco and the receivers to make some plays downfield. The Ravens won the time of possession battle in the first meeting; a similar outcome with touchdowns instead of field goals could be the recipe for victory in this divisional round game.