After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against America’s “golden boy” quarterback on national television, the Ravens get a “do-over” of sorts this week, as everyone’s other favorite signal-caller comes to town with the rest of his Super Bowl ring bearing chumps. That’s right, the Indianapolis Colts visit B-More again this week, for a Sunday night match-up. What a difference (almost) a year makes, huh? We Baltimoreans remember all too well the last time we saw our old team return to Charm City, when Indy defeated the Ravens 15-6 in the 2006 AFC Divisional playoff, on their way to winning what should have been OUR Super Bowl. This time, the Colts are desperately trying to keep pace with New England, in the hopes the Pats will falter down the stretch before locking up home-field advantage, while the Ravens….well, the Ravens have only pride and revenge to play for.
The Colts are a different team than they were in the 2006 regular season, as the post-season, defensive powerhouse version of the blue and white has carried over into 2007. The Colts rank #2 in overall defense, allowing just 277 yards per game. Their strength is their pass defense (which also ranks 2nd in the NFL), as Tony Dungy’s “Tampa 2” zone defense has allowed only 15 passing plays of over 20 yards this season, the fewest in the league. Luckily for the Ravens, the deep ball is certainly not a staple of their offense. The horseshoes are a bit more vulnerable to the ground attack, giving up 108 ypg (18th overall). If the Ravens can stick with their newfound commitment to the running game, and J.O., Jason Brown, Mike Flynn, Marshall Yanda, and Ben Grubbs can impose their will up front like they did for the first 3 quarters on Monday night, it will go a long way in helping the Ravens pull the upset.
The Ravens offense as a whole showed signs of life Monday night that we have not seen all year. Quarterback Kyle Boller (with the exception of one glaring, inexcusable mistake) played his best football ….. well, probably ever. The offensive line played like the smash-mouth Ravens of old, Willis McGahee had his best game as a Raven, and Brian Billick actually varied his playcalling enough to keep the Pats off balance. Similar efforts will be needed all around to have any chance Sunday night. The Ravens will likely again be without tight end/giant baby Todd Heap, but the return of Dan Wilcox to the lineup is a welcome sight, as was his touchdown grab Monday.
As far as the Colts offense, well, what is there really to say? Peyton Manning is as advertised. Joseph Addai, while he has had a few poor games in a row, is a very dangerous weapon, moreso than anything in the Patriots backfield. Reggie Wayne has picked up the slack for the injured Marvin Harrison, and Dallas Clark moves the chains from the slot. The Colts are going to do what they always do, which is move the football. To stay in it, the Ravens D will need to continue their Red Zone domination and hold the most visible athlete in America and his troops to field goal attempts. As we saw Monday, the Ravens defense is a completely different animal with Chris McAlister on the field. Unfortunately, his status for Sunday’s game remains uncertain, and he is a game-day decision. With him, the Ravens can stay close, and cause plenty o’ “Manning-face” if they play with the discipline, passion, and intensity they displayed last week. Without C-Mac, or without the same fire in their bellies, the embarrassment many expected last week could show up to M&T Bank anyway, just 6 days late.
After watching the Ravens for those previous 5 weeks before Monday night, and then seeing the team that emerged from the home tunnel against the Patriots, we sure don’t know better than any of you what to make of the 2007 purple-and-black. For predictions’ sake, lets cross our fingers that last week’s team carries over, and we can exact a bit of sweet revenge on those damn Colts, huh?
If not, well….at least we won’t hurt our draft position.
Ravens 24 Colts 23