Next week the Colts travel to Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens jumped from a third place team to a first place team in one year. The media has been kind to the Ravens, often comparing them to the 2000 Superbowl Champions. Don't be fooled by the comparison. The Ravens are a talented team. They have just as much chance as any other team to win the Superbowl. However, they are beatable. Take it from some one who knows. I live in Baltimore.
Because of this, I know almost as much about the Ravens as I do about the Colts. After the Colts left, Baltimore had no team, thus I loyally followed the Colts. Enough about my reasons for being a Colts fan, on to the matchup.
Any football expert will tell you that Steve McNair is the reason that the Ravens were 13-3 this year, but there are less obvious reasons for the Ravens success. Particularly the Offensive Line. Aside from Jonathan Ogden the Ravens do not have any dominant offensive lineman. They have played well as unit, especially as of late. They have not given up a sack in weeks. Many Colts fans will say that Freeney owns Ogden. This is skewed line of thinking. Ogden had one of his worst years as a pro last year, despite making it to the Pro-Bowl. This year Ogden proved once again that he is one of the best Left Tackles in the league. Dwight Freeney will have his chances against Ogden 1 on 1.
Another reason for improvement was the emergence of Mark Clayton as the #2 reciever. He had a decent rookie campaign as the #2 wideout last year, but didn't fully develop until this season. Several players returned from injury, including Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two of the NFL's best, who missed significant time last year.
Then McNair was added to an abismal offense. As Colts fans, we are familiar with Steve and his mental toughness. He is a warrior, but in my opinion not a great quarterback this year, statistically speaking. The Ravens offense is average at best. They scored three points against Denver and seven on a Cincinatti team ranked last in pass defense. They rely on the defense to get them turnovers. They let the defense control the tempo and try to shy away from making mistakes on offense. Jamal Lewis is aging and is not the same runningback that rushed for 2,066 yards a few years ago. For the first half of the year, the Ravens had a below average offense. Ever since the head coach, Brian Billick, took over playcalling duties, the offense has new life. Usually Jamal gets 20+ carries and McNair throws off play-action to pro-bowl TE Todd Heap.
On defense the Ravens ranked #1 overall. They defend the run extremely well, but are vunerable to the big passing plays. Peyton Manning will have to take advantage of the secondarys inability to read play fakes and cover recievers downfield. To do this Saturday, Tarik Glenn, and the rest of the O-Line will have to play a great game. Four Ravens have 9.5 or more sacks, led by former Bronco Trevor Pryce with 13. Ben Utecht and Joseph Addai will have to do their part to keep Manning off his back as well. The Ravens have several blitz packages and come from every possible angle. Due in part to the versatility possessed by the linebackers, the Ravens can play a 4-3, 3-4, or 46. Still, this defense is not the same one from the year 2000. Most of those players are gone. Against the Saints they gave up over 150 yards and 2 touchdowns to Marques Colston, so I expect Marvin or Reggie to have a big day.
They also have great special teams. They have shuffled kick returners this year due to an injury to BJ Sams, who had over 200 return yards against Atlanta.
The Colts will be heavy underdogs, but they have a chance if they can execute the aforementioned things. I went to the game in Baltimore last year and I enjoyed it. I wish I could go next week. If anybody has questions about the Baltimore Ravens let me know. I will be happy to answer them.