Division Round Playoffs Preview: Ravens at Colts

Roughly one month ago, the Colts played their last "meaningful" game of the 2009 regular season. Two games, and one controversial third quarter decision later, we are neck deep in the 2009 NFL playoffs.

After an impressive butt-whoppin' of the Patriots in Foxboro, the Ravens come to Indianapolis to take on the team that the city of Baltimore once called theirs. Obviously, there is tremendous history between these two clubs and these two cities. Traditionally, both fanbases have detested one another. For Ravens fans, the residents of Indy stole their team in 1984. For Indy Colts fans, Baltimorians need to get over something that happened over twenty-five years ago.

Yet, despite the animosity and the bitterness between the fans, there is a great deal of respect and admiration between the players and the coaches of these respective franchises. There is also a great deal of familiarity.

Since 2002, these teams have played each other on a pretty consistent basis even though both teams do not reside in the same division. And since 2002, the Colts have dominated the Ravens to the tune of an 8-0 record against them, including a very memorable playoff game during the 2006 season at Baltimore.

However, this Ravens team in 2009 is, in my opinion, better than the 2006 team. In addition, this 2009 Ravens team bare a scary resemblance to the 2005 Steelers team that entered the the playoffs as the #6 seed and defeated the #1 seeded Colts at the RCA Dome in a game that featured a famous Jerome Bettis fumble, a Ben Roethlisberger tackle, and a Mike Vanderjagt missed field goal. To this day, that playoff loss stings more than any other even though the opponent was obviously worthy enough to beat the Colts that year (the 2005 Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl).

18to88 and John Oehser have written about the similarities between the 2005 Steelers and 2009 Ravens in greater detail.

Now, four years later, the 2009 Ravens come to Luke Oil Stadium with the same swagger, confidence, and talent that the 2005 Steelers had. However, as Raheem Brock had the decency to Tweet about recently (again Raheem, your Tweets are absolute gold my friend!), one of the reasons the Colts lost the 2005 playoff game was that some of their own players weren't doing their job:

When we lost to the steelers it was because there were guys on the defense that were doin wut they wanted to and not playn the defense!

...

We got rid of those guys!

Bold statement by Raheem.

Since 2005, gone are Colts starters Mike Doss, Nick Harper, Corey Simon, Cato June, David Thornton, Jason David, and Montae Reagor. The current starters for these players respective positions are Antoine Bethea, Antonio Johnson, Clint Session, Philip Wheeler, Jerraud Powers, and Daniel Muir. Like in 2005, the 2009 Colts clinched their playoff seed early and rested starters down the stretch. Unlike 2005, the horrible distraction of James Dungy's suicide is not hovering over the 2009 team, though it is understandable if players like Pierre Garçon have their minds on family and friends in Haiti.

However this game plays out, while the 2009 Ravens seem to reflect the 2005 Steelers, the 2009 Colts are certainly not the 2005 Colts. This Colts team seems more focused and prepared heading into what should be a titanic clash with their rivals, the Ravens.

Keys for the Colts:

  • Joe Flacco is hurt. His hip and knee are bothering him. This is effecting how he is throwing the football. Last week, he threw for a net 34 yards, setting a playoff record for QB ineptness. The Ravens will likely look to get the ball out of his hands quickly. The Colts must attack Flacco and force him into mistakes. With Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis healthy, and with the Colts secondary as healthy as it has been all year, this task is very doable.
  • Ray Rice and Willis McGahee must be contained. In the Colts 17-15 win over the Ravens in Baltimore last November, the Colts did an outstanding job shutting down the Ravens running duo. They physically challenged the Ravens offensive front and controlled them to the tune of 98 yards rushing on 31 carries (3.2 a carry). The Colts must do an equally effective job to have a chance at winning. The Ravens are an outstanding running team, and their whole offense seems predicated around it. Stopping them run really limits them offensively.
  • I get the sense that Peyton Manning is angry. He is tired of listening to people like me drone on and on about the "missed undefeated season." When Peyton gets angry, he typically goes out on the football field and dominates. He will need to play at that level if he wants to beat the Ravens defense, who deploy several disguised blitzes and coverages to confuse QBs. Traditionally, Peyton has done well solving the Ravens defense. He will need to do so again.

Overall, this is an outstanding playoff match-up between two excellent clubs. In addition, while I am well aware of how much Ravens and Colts fans "hate" each other, I must say that Bruce and the fans at Baltimore Beatdown have been great, asking wonderful questions in our Q & A.

Discuss your thoughts on match-ups heading into the game in the comments below.

Go Indianapolis Colts!

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