Colts (0-12) @ Ravens (9-3)

With the Cleveland Browns doing the Ravens no favors in losing to the Steelers on Thursday night, the Ravens will have to do something Sunday that they haven’t done in over a decade: beat the Indianapolis Colts.

Fortunately for the Ravens, the conditions for a win over the horseshoes have never been better. They limp into town as the NFL’s lone winless team at 0-12, and have played the entire season without the second best quarterback to ever wear a Colts jersey, Peyton Manning. They have the league’s 28th ranked defense, 29th ranked offense, and are dead last in points allowed at 29.8 per game. The closest they’ve come to a victory was a 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh (ughhhh, WHY couldn’t it have went the other way?) way back in Week 3. They lost a game 62-7 in New Orleans. They’ve lost games to the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville beat them by two touchdowns.

Throw in the Ravens’ perfect 6-0 record at home this season, and there is absolutely no reason for them to not wipe the M&T Bank Stadium turf with Indy carcass all afternoon Sunday.

Ravens fans will be biting their nails of course, remembering back to 2007, when the Ravens traveled to Miami and lost to the then 0-13 Dolphins. Let us not forget, though, that the ’07 Ravens were a train wreck of a team themselves, entering that game at 4-9 and finishing the season 5-11, not nearly the #1-seed contending squad they are here in 2011. No such embarrassment should be on the horizon for this team. A hiccup this week would be completely inexcusable.

While the lack of both Manning and Ray Lewis in this game will make it much less interesting for the casual NFL fan than Colts/Ravens has been in the past, those two are far from the only injury concerns.

Matt Birk and Chris Carr have both missed practice time this week, and will likely be listed as questionable at best. The Ravens have good depth at both positions, though. Andre Gurode stepped in for Birk for a handful of snaps in Cleveland and the line didn’t seem to miss a beat; Gurode looked much better at his natural center position than he had at guard filling in for Ben Grubbs earlier this year. In the secondary, Carr has been the weak link when he’s been on the field anyway. Jimmy Smith, while still prone to the kind of occasional lapse that gave the Browns their only touchdown last week, is getting better every game and has two interceptions. Danny Gorrer has been an extremely pleasant surprise, and has batted down twice as many passes (4) as receptions he’s allowed in 2011 (though he should also have a pick six on his resume from Colt McCoy…come on, Danny – catch the ball THEN run).

One unsettling injury, though, is kicker Billy Cundiff, who missed practice Thursday with a “left calf” injury. If Cundiff can’t go, Sam Koch should be able to handle kickoff duties, and if the game comes down to extra points and/or field goals to beat Indianapolis anyway, something is very wrong.

The Colts have plenty of injury issues of their own. They just placed two cornerbacks on injured reserve this week, Terence Johnson and Jerraud Powers. According to the guys over at Stampede Blue, Powers “was the only corner worth a damn in the Colts whole miserable secondary.” Also going on I.R. was rookie defensive tackle Drake Nevis. Take it away, Big Blue Shoe:

Last night, we got the news that rookie Drake Nevis was also placed on I.R. Nevis has been battling lower back pain all season. Much like Powers in the secondary, Nevis was the only defensive tackle who was playing at a serviceable level for the Colts in 2011.

The Ravens are coming off their best running performance of the season (and in recent memory) against Cleveland, and given the Colts’ injuries along with the fact that Joe Flacco plays much better at home, the Ravens should be able to have their way with the Colts on the ground and through the air. They’ll be looking to break a very dubious streak against Indy; in three career games, John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco teams have yet to score a single touchdown against them.

Here’s hoping that stat gets put to rest early in the first quarter, perhaps on a long Flacco-to-Torrey Smith touchdown strike.

After playing with former Manning backup Curtis Painter for the season’s first 11 games, Indy switched to Dan Orlovsky last week. Orlovsky – as everybody does – looked pretty good against the New England secondary, completing 30/37 passes for 353 yards and two scores. Much of that was in “garbage time,” but it’s still good that the Ravens’ defense has some film on what Orlovsky is capable of.

Chuck Pagano’s defense, the NFL leaders in sacks with 41, should be able to confuse and harass Orlovsky into a much worse stat line than he put up against the Patriots’ 32nd-ranked pass defense. The sacks are coming from all over the Ravens’ D. After Terrell Suggs (10.0), the Ravens don’t have any players with double-digit sacks, but they have four different defensive linemen with at least 3.5 (Cory Redding 3.5, Paul Kruger 4.5, Haloti Ngata 5.0, and Pernell McPhee 6.0). McPhee has been an extremely valuable addition, and looks to be Ozzie Newsome’s latest late-round steal.

If the Ravens are able to get out to a comfortable lead and can pin their ears back on Orlovsky, they could duplicate their 9-sack performance from back on Thanksgiving day. In a close game, though, they’ll have to respect the Colts’ weapons on the outside, receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, and tight end Dallas Clark. Look for Pagano to play a bit conservative on the back end until the Ravens are up by at least a score or two. Quick strikes from Orlovsky seem like the only way the Colts will be able to stay in this one; I can’t see him putting together too many long drives in Baltimore.

The Ravens haven’t had a truly dominant start-to-finish performance since back in Week 1 against Pittsburgh (and, to a lesser extent, Week 3 in St. Louis). While they whooped the Browns from the opening whistle, some stalled drives and missed field goals kept Cleveland in the game much longer than they had any business being so. Hopefully the Ravens can give us fans a nice relaxing game to watch Sunday, with no late-game comebacks like Cincinnati, and those few Baltimore fans who still cringe when they see that blue and white can get a measure of catharsis from watching a thorough beatdown of the “Irsays.”

They’re the best team in the AFC. As the final quarter of the season rolls upon us, it’s time to start (keep) playing like it.

Ravens 31 Colts 6



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