With the Colts facing the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Baltimore Beatdown's Matthew Stevens about the Ravens and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Matthew's responses follow.
1. Steve Smith has garnered a lot of attention this past week, and he's off to a great start this season. Can you talk a little bit about what he has done and how you think he will fare against the Colts' cornerbacks this weekend?
Smith Sr. has been a huge pickup for the Ravens this season both for his work on the field (fourth in the league in yards per game and tied for seventh in receptions), but also for his mentoring. You've seen a change in both the attitude of this offense as well as the skill of the receivers almost overnight. Guys come back to the ball and they know how to find open spots in the zone and they are all playing with a chip on their shoulder. While I'm sure Kubiak has helped on that as well, I'm giving the credit more to Smith for the turnaround of a unit that was not all that great over the past few seasons.
With regards to how he will fare against the Colts, I expect the same ole Steve Smith. He'll get the ball thrown his way consistently and will likely be matched up against either Greg Toler or Darius Butler and I expect him to do fairly well against those guys. I think the goal as the season goes on is for more attention to get put on Steve Smith so it takes safety attention away from the seam where Owen Daniels can hit for a big play or on Torrey Smith so he can hopefully get one-on-one coverage and grab a play or two deep. Luckily for the Ravens, Smith can be great on his own or allow others to be great simply by being a decoy and I suspect the Colts will try and cover him a little more which will open up other passing lanes.
2. The Ravens no longer have Ray Rice, as we all know, yet the Ravens are still ranked as a top-ten rushing offense through the first four weeks. How have the Ravens done running the ball so far, and is that success something you think will continue?
A lot of Ravens fans were expecting Rice to come back and return to form, but honestly I just don't think he was ever going to live up to that expectation. So while most people are sorry that Rice the player is gone, they really are glad to be rid of him as a person and a distraction from the team. With that, the Ravens have leaned heavily on Justin Forsett and either rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro or Bernard Pierce and they have been executing like perfection. All three backs have displayed excellent burst through the hole, great vision and patience in waiting for the line to open up a spot and then the mass or agility to grab extra after contact.
A lot of that credit does go to the offensive line for being able to absolutely punish some of the best defensive lines in the league. we saw it last week with the offensive line as a whole rushing for first downs and clearing the way for the running back to essentially walk behind them. The quickness and the push these guys are getting is phenomenal and something that I can't see stopping any time soon. I expect the Ravens to run quite a bit against the Colts if just to slow the game down and keep Luck off the field, but more importantly to open up passing lanes as defenders cheat down to stop the run.
3. The Ravens pass defense is not ranked very highly right now and the team has generated just four sacks in four games. Against a quarterback like Andrew Luck, who leads the NFL in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns, how are the Ravens realistically going to try to slow him down?
The Ravens are near the bottom of the barrel in yardage allowed but they are tied for second in points allowed per game. What you are seeing from the Ravens defense is what we've seen for a few years now and that is a bend but don't break philosophy. Don't allow plays to get behind you and make sure tackles and things will happen for you. Once offenses get around the redzone, they are settling for field goals instead of touchdowns while a more efficient Ravens offense is putting 7s on the board.
Also the sack count isn't really telling the whole story. Playing against guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Andy Dalton means that the Ravens are getting close but they are having savvy quarterbacks launch the ball to their numerous weapons before the Ravens can make a play. The other side of that coin though showed all three on their backs several times and a noticeable limp coming from Cam Newton. While they might not be counting, ask those quarterbacks and they certainly add up.
4. Against a team like the Ravens, knowing what you do about the team, what do you think the most effective way for the Colts to play would be?
Stay away from the run and stay away from Jimmy Smith. Both are sure fire ways to either turn the ball over or to consistently punt. Lardarius Webb might be back this week but after missing over two months due to injury, he certainly won't have all the rust knocked off and from the few snaps we saw of him from the Cleveland game, he could be incredibly stiff and give up huge plays initially. If Webb isn't active, go after whatever corner is on that side. The secondary has been playing better but the combination of Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson aren't shutdown corners and they can and will make mistakes from time to time, especially in zone coverage. No offense to the Colts rushing attack, but the Ravens have put the hurt on far better running backs than Trent Richardson this season and that isn't a matchup I think they are concerned with or scared about. Take what the Ravens defense gives you and march down the field to try and punch it in.
For the Colts defense, I'm not too sure how to stop this offense really except to try and get to Flacco. The Ravens have too many ways to beat you both on the ground and through dinking and dunking the ball around. Fortunately or unfortunately for the Colts, the offense also has the ability to beat themselves through penalties and through inconsistent play. It would be far better for the Colts if the offense that played the Browns or Bengals shows up. However, against two of the league's middle ranked defenses, the Ravens offense absolutely tore them to shreds.
5. How do you think the Ravens will try to play against this Colts team?
I expect the Ravens to focus on rushing the ball up the gut to set up the pass. It'll slow the game down a good bit and not allow it to get into shootout territory. As we've seen with the season so far, that will cause defenders to cheat down towards the line of scrimmage where throws to Steve Smith, Owen Daniels and Torrey Smith will create big plays. Look for a balanced attack on offense from the Ravens with them not looking to go deep unless they see a good matchup.
On defense, the Ravens will test that hurt offensive line and see how well the Colt's depth can play. If they can get a good pass rush with four, expect them to put more guys in the secondary to tighten up the passing lanes on Andrew Luck and see if they can make a big play and get an advantage. If they can't get the pass rush from the front four, expect to see blitzes and zone coverage allowing the Colts to drive down the field but hold up in the redzone with the short field, forcing them to kick field goals. If the Ravens do that, expect a grind of a game.
BONUS: What is your prediction for the game?
I expect the Ravens to win. Depending on what Ravens team shows up will determine the score. If they come out like they have the last two weeks, this game could get nasty. If they come out like they did against the Bengals or Browns, it'll be a nail biter that will depend on the leg of Justin Tucker to seal the deal in the closing minutes.
Thanks again to Matthew Stevens of Baltimore Beatdown for taking the time to answer these questions!
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