Indianapolis Colts go on the Road and Return Home to Baltimore

So what will the Indianapolis Colts do for an encore? As Indianapolis sport’s fans all over the Circle City are still replaying Sunday Night’s instant classic, the Colts have turned their attention to the city they first called home. From 1953 to 1983, Indy‘s beloved footballers called Baltimore their own, then came the infamous Mayflower Move by Colts owner Robert Irsay–father of current Colts owner Jim Irsay. This will be the fifth time in franchise history that the Colts return to Baltimore for a regular season game, the series is tied 2-2.

Before we proceed with the particulars, I need to add a final note on last week’s win over New England. After the national media initially criticized Bill Belichick for his ridiculous fourth-and-2 call, it seemed to become the cool thing to do to praise this “gutsy” call. Analysts all over were saying that not only was it a great call but it was the right call. This my friends is idiotic. Perhaps these paid professionals should worry less about an attention grabbing sound bite and focus more on the result of the game.

If they had converted the fourth-and-2 it is an awesome call, but they didn’t so it wasn’t. Sure they only came up seven inches short, but that makes all the difference in the world. To draw a partial parallel, if I were 6 foot 7 I would be able to dunk a basketball, but I am not so I can’t.  I know my limitations, my dreams of a throwing down a 360 degree windmill dunk are relegated to being played out with a Nerf basketball on the tiny plastic rim attached to the back of a door. Those little seven inches have made all the difference between my basketball career being played above the rim, and coming to an abrupt halt when someone slammed my door to quickly, shattering my hoop. But I digress.

The still undefeated Indianapolis Colts will be playing somewhere other than Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time in over a month when they travel to Charm City to take on the 5-4 Ravens. Even though it is Week 11, both of these teams are still looking for answers to very different questions.

The Colts are trying to figure out their defensive identity, and see just how good they really are. Injuries and a weak schedule through the first half of the season have left the Colts wondering just how far into the playoffs they can go. Make no mistake about it, you don’t go 9-0 in the NFL without being a good team. But the Colts just started playing playoff caliber opponents  these last two weeks, and with all of their injuries, the Indianapolis defense has not been able to find their comfort zone yet.

For a decade now the Ravens defense has been one of the best year in and year out, yet with all of that defensive dominance they were only able to capture one Super Bowl title in 2000. If they had any real semblance of an offense during this run they very easily could have been the team of the decade. It now appears that the often desired offense has finally come to town, but the Raven defense is not what it once was.

Fresh off an appearance in last year’s AFC Championship Game, Baltimore’s Birds started the season 3-0 and seemed like they were going to be a real contender for the crown in 2009. Since then simple subtraction shows they have gone just 2-4. And having been swept by their AFC North division leaders, the Cincinnati Bengals, they are fighting just to make the wild card round of the playoffs this season.

The Ravens are lead by second-year starter Joe Flacco at quarterback and running back Ray Rice on offense. Rice is establishing himself as an every down back who can run inside and outside, and will give the Colts trouble if they can’t bring him down on first contact. Flacco is leading the Ravens into a new era of football in B-More where they are looking to score six rather than preventing points on defense.

The only two complaints about the sophomore signal caller is that he has a unibrow and a horrible nickname, Joe Cool just doesn’t cut it in my book. His once upon a time Pro-Bowl tight end Todd Heap is a great target for Flacco, but he is injured almost as often as Colts safety Bob Sanders so it is tough to rely on him. Indianapolis fans will be familiar with the Ravens top receiver Derrick Mason, who spent the majority of his career with the Tennessee Titians.

The vaunted defense of Baltimore has a little less to vaunt now that linebacker Terrell Suggs is sidelined with a sprained knee. Both Suggs and Peyton Manning can thank University of Notre Dame alumni Brady Quinn who caused the injury on Monday Night with a chop block on Suggs. So the real question is does Peyton just send a fruit basket to Quinn, or does he line said fruit basket with a couple of grand? After all, chances are good Brady will be out of a job next year so he could use all the help he can get.

The Ravens linebacking core is still tough with the likes of Ray Lewis and Jarrett Johnson lining up and will bring pressure on Peyton all day. On their defensive line the Ravens are lead by Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, two of the best in the business at stopping the run, so it looks as though the Indianapolis Colts will have to go yet another week without much of a run game.

All over Indiana this is music to Hoosier‘s ears. No run means more pass, and Peyton will oblige. The Ravens go into this Week 11 match up with one of the worst secondarys in the NFL. Even with best in the biz safety ED Reed back there, Baltimore will be looking to limit Manning’s time in the pocket, otherwise it will be a long day down in the inner harbor.

This just means that if you can catch a ball and you play for the Indianapolis Colts, you have a great opportunity to have a big game. Reggie Wayne will be big on Sunday, while receivers Austin Collie and Peirre Garcon look to rebound from not so stellar performances against New England. Dallas Clark won’t be contained in the same manner as he was against the Patriots, but as mentioned before, he is not going against just some slouches on defense this week. He is going to have to earn his yards and catches, but he will get them.

This week’s game must stir up some old feelings that will never go away in Baltimore. And after their Monday night game and victory against the Cleveland Browns, the Colts coming to town brings this little love triangle full circle. See the Indianapolis Colts used to be the Baltimore Colts, and the Baltimore Ravens used to be the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland and Indianapolis have no real connection other than Cleveland fans hating Indy fans because the Colts are good and the Browns…well are the Browns.

Some people think that teams coming off of Monday Night games are in a hole when it comes to next Sunday’s start. I am not one of them. The Ravens did not have to travel out of their own timezone, and playing the Browns is the NFL equivalent of stretching your hammys before you go for a run. This is however a classic trap game. The Colts are coming off of a huge come from behind victory against one of their biggest rivals, and travel to Houston next week to play a possibly desperate Texans team. So how do the Indianapolis Colts avoid overlooking this Sunday’s game?

Peyton Manning is how. The man audibles the way he ties his shoes sometimes if he can’t get the equal loops he was looking for. This is the first time in over a decade that the Ravens have had a good offense and even if this becomes a close game at the end, they don’t know how to manage a game late in the fourth quarter on offense yet. They just haven’t been there enough. On the flip side, Manning is becoming the standard by which other teams measure their game management skills against. All of this does not bode well for Baltimore.

My prediction is the Colts will extend their undefeated season one more week as the Colts fans of old learn that their new team just does not have it this year.

The game kicks off at 1:00 p.m. and can be heard on 97.1 Hank FM or seen on CBS Channel 8 WISH TV.