Yesterday, you read Mark Cline’s in-depth preview of the Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens playoff matchup. Today, just hours before the Indianapolis Colts embark on yet another playoff run, I’ll dig even deeper and examine just why the Colts will win. And why the Ravens can beat them.
This is not what we wanted. As Colts fans, facing a rolling, confident Ravens squad in the second round of the playoffs is a worst-case scenario. It could’ve been Cincinnati. We would have spanked the Bengals so hard they wouldn’t have been able to sit for a month. It could have been New York. Man, how fun would that have been? We owe the Jets. We owe them a big, fat beat down. I haven’t forgotten 41-0, have you? I know you remember Week 16. And so do the Colts players. There’s no doubt we’d have made the great Rex Ryan eat his words along with his nightly deep-dish pizza.
But then Baltimore had to go and mess everything up.
Seeing as I pee blue, watching New England go down in flames — and reading all the “Bill Belichick is dead” articles — should have sent me into an orgasmic state. It didn’t. As much I enjoyed Tom Brady’s ineptitude, I couldn’t get the sight of Ray Rice bolting down the sidelines out my mind. The Colts road to Miami is now blocked by a giant purple chuckhole.
Historically speaking, this game is bad blood personified. Indianapolis stole the Colts from Baltimore 25 years ago. Baltimore then stole the Browns from Cleveland, and the two fan bases — spurred on by always crucial yearly matchups — now have a deep-seeded hatred of one another. Peyton Manning has gone on record saying M&T Bank Stadium is the most hostile environments he’s ever played in, and when the two teams met in Baltimore on November 22, Ravens brass made a decision not to display “Colts” on their stadium scoreboard, instead using “Indy.”
Colts fans have also done their part to stoke the rivalry, threatening to boycott Howl at The Moon, a popular downtown Indianapolis bar, after its owner offered a Facebook invitation for Ravens fans to watch the game at his bar…and then proceeded to rant about how much it “sucks living in Colts country.” Even the governors are upping the ante on their typically boring bet. Instead of St. Elmo’s famous shrimp cocktail in exchange for some Maryland crab cakes, Mitch Daniels and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have agreed to fly the other team’s flag from their vehicle for a week following defeat. That’s a pretty ballsy bet for what’s supposed to be a fun little P.R. sideshow.
On the field, the action is just as intense. It’s speed and execution versus strength and intimidation. Peyton Manning versus Ray Lewis. An unstoppable offense against an unbreakable defense. These two teams know exactly what each other are all about, and what it will take to come out ahead. The question won’t be who wants it more — both teams have the requisite fire — it’ll be who can more forcefully impose their will on the other.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at why the Ravens will win the upcoming game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
WHY THE RAVENS WILL WIN:
Ray Rice can devastate defenses
-The Ravens have a powerfully built offensive line that’s made for run blocking, and they have one the most dynamic back in the NFL, Ray Rice, to go along with the rejuvenated Willis McGahee. Over their last five games, Baltimore’s averaging a sick 216 rushing yards per game. The Colts rank 24th in rush defense, and stopping the run is the one weakness of an otherwise stout defense. That could be a problem.-Terrell Suggs is back. The Ravens best pass-rusher missed the earlier meeting with the Colts because of a sprained knee ligament, but he’s back and good as ever. Just ask Tom Brady. Additionally, he’s athletic enough to drop into coverage against Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. Nobody can disrupt Manning’s timing more effectively than Suggs.
-The Colts are essentially coming off a two-week vacation. There’s definitely some concern they’ll have problems adjusting to the Ravens physicality early, and if history is any indicator, Indianapolis does not perform well in the playoffs coming off a bye. They’re 0-3 in the Manning era.
-Veteran receiver Derrick Mason ran circles around the young Colts secondary in the first meeting. Mason, who actually retired prior to the season only to be talked out of it, had nine catches for 142 yards and continually found himself wide open thanks to his superior route running skills. The Ravens downfield passing game is completely reliant on Mason, and if he’s able to find the holes in the Colts zone again, it’ll spread the field for Rice and McGahee to their damage.
-Most importantly, Baltimore is battle-tested, with a boulder of momentum behind them. They won three of their last four regular season games to sneak into the sixth AFC playoff spot, and their dismantling of the Patriots in the Wildcard round served a resounding warning to the league to that the Ravens are for real. They have it all, really. The experience of making it to the AFC Championship last year. The on-field leadership of one of the greatest competitors of all-time. A game-changing offensive weapon. A competent coaching staff. And of course, enough confidence to fuel a battleship. Makes for a pretty deadly recipe, no?
-For the record, 84% of people surveyed at baltimoreravens.com believe Baltimore will be playing for the conference championship next weekend.
Now to the good stuff. Let’s take a look at why the Colts will have downtown Indianapolis rocking after a victory tonight.
Why the Colts will win:
- -They’re as healthy as they’ve been since Week One. Addai and Donald Brown? Yep, they’re both ready. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis? You know it. And let’s all welcome back Jerraud Powers, Clint Sessions and Charlie Johnson. The Colts may have been “vacationing” for the past month, but during the earned time off they’ve used their new-found health to their advantage by structuring high intensity workouts designed to eliminate the rust.
-The three teams they could have faced this weekend, the Bengals, Jets and Ravens, are very similar teams who are powered by strong running games and shutdown defenses. In essence, the Indy coaching staff has been preparing for this game for two whole weeks. Any perceived weaknesses have, hopefully, been accounted for during the extensive game planning.
-For as maligned as the rush defense is at times, they’ve stepped up when needed. In the first matchup with Baltimore, Rice and McGahee were held to a combined 96 yards on the ground. If Larry Coyer can again dial up the right mix and hold the Ravens ground game under 100 yards, the Colts will coast to a victory.
-Joe Flacco is banged up. Like, really banged up. Hobbled by a strained hip flexor that also affects his quadriceps muscle, Flacco completed just four of 10 passes for 34 yards last week. He was spotted noticeably limping during practice this week, and though he’ll be in uniform on game day, a gimpy QB is like an injured antelope to pass rushing lions Freeney and Mathis. Especially considering Jared Gaither, Flacco’s blindside protector on the offensive line, is questionable with a sprained ankle. That could prompt a line re-arrangement that would pit rookie tackle Michael Oher against Freeney, and the inconsistent Oniel Cousins against Mathis. I can practically hear the speed rushing defensive ends licking their chops.
-The Colts own the Ravens. They haven’t lost to Baltimore since December of 2001, a span covering seven games. They beat them in the Divisional round on their way to the 2006 Super Bowl, and they beat them earlier this season. That has to mean something, right?
-The game is at home. Indianapolis sports fans who follow the team have always
- Colts fans will be ready to rock by game time
prided themselves on providing one of the loudest playing environments in the league. The little disagreement the fan base and management had a couple of weeks ago should be water under the bridge by now (it better be), and with a full day of “preparation” ahead of them (the game doesn’t start till 8:30), Colts fans will be in the perfect mood to create a wild, celebratory game atmosphere for the team to feed off of. If “The Oil Drum” is not swaying from side-to-side by the opening kickoff, I’ll be severely disappointed.
-Finally, this Colts team possesses an intangible attitude that no other team in franchise history can boast. Not only are they supremely confident in their abilities, they know how to utilize that swagger to close out games. Look at all the different ways they’ve won games this year:
-Stuffed a tying two-point conversion in the season opener against Jacksonville.
- -Got 27 points from their offense in less than 15 minutes of field time to beat Miami 27-23.
-Forced Houston’s Kris Brown into missing a 42-yard field goal as time expired that would have sent the game into overtime.
-Prevented a touchdown when Baltimore had a first-and-goal from the 1 late in the game, then sealed the deal with a Matt Stover field goal.
-Used Bill Belichick’s arrogance against him by stuffing the Patriots on a 4th and 2 from their own 28 with less than three minutes remaining.
-Scored 21 unanswered points to overcome a 17 point deficit against the Texans.
-Picked off David Garrard as the Jaguars mounted a final minute drive to win the game in Week 15.
Jim Caldwell said it best:
“All around, we’ve just found different ways to win, and I think that’s encouraging because that’s what you need. You need a team that can adjust and keep fighting. One thing we know how to do, that we’ve learned over a time, is how to finish.”
And that, my fellow Colts brethren, is the main reason Indianapolis will conquer their first-game demons and move on to host the AFC Championship game. Bring on the Chargers. We owe them too.