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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Ravens/Colts game
Whenever I see this guy playing against my team, I feel all stabby inside
Last week's Eyes was pretty amazing, right down to the prediction that it would take Jack Bauer-like heroics to win. I'd say what Jackson, Brock and Freeney did to Sage Rosenfels qualifies as torture. The Ravens are coming off two losses just as painful as the Colts win was glorious. It's a bellwether game for teams as the winner has to feel good about where they are, and the loser will be left searching for answers. This be sure to keep your eye on:
1. Watch his back. Charlie Johnson is expected to start over Tony Ugoh again, leaving Peyton Manning's blind side virtually unprotected. If Manning doesn't have time to throw, the Ravens will pin down the run game and play everything short. The result could be disaster for Indy.
2. Watch for cushion. Tim Jennings is starting over a seriously injured Kelvin Hayden, and he loves to play off the wideouts and gives up a lot of easy slant passes. If he doesn't buckle it down, Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason could just play toss all afternoon.
3. Watch for the battering ram. The Ravens run three backs, as Willis McGahee has been nursing a truly bizarre bunch of injuries. The scariest is 'full'back Le'Ron McClain. Bill Polian called him a 'tailback in a fullback's body', and he presents a daunting matchup for the undersized Colts front 7.
4. Speaking of the run game, watch for it all afternoon. Joe Flacco has averaged about 25 throws a game, with a YPA under 6. The Ravens don't mind three runs and a punt. They won't likely put the game in the hands of their young QB on the road, so the Colts had better come up with a way to control the run game. If they can keep big run plays to a minimum, Baltimore might struggle to score.
5. Watch out below! The Colts receivers have been plagued by crucial dropped passes in every game. In fact, just about the only guy not dropping passes is Dallas Clark, who lead the NFL in drops last year! Gonzo, Wayne and 88 all have multiple drops which have killed the Colts deep passing game. If the Colts can hang onto the ball, they have chance to do real damage.
6. Watch for stupidity. The Colts have now lost four straight games (including preseason) in their new digs. Of course this has everything to do with the massive injuries on both sides of the ball, but people are stupid and love to talk. If the Colts start out 0-3 at home, morons in the press and at home will start to blame the Luke for the fact that Charlie Johnson and pals can't remember their blocking assignments.
7. Watch Joe Addai stay in to block. It's very likely that the Colts will struggle to run the ball, and may well give up on it entirely, especially if they fall behind early. Some of the best plays last Sunday came in max protect schemes with two tight ends block and Joe Addai staying home to pick up whoever invariably found his way deep into the backfield. Addai only has 5 catches this year. At no point during last season did he go 4 games with fewer than 9 catches.
8. Watch Peyton try to protect the ball. The Colts' most effective plays have been passes beyond the LBs and in front of the safeties to Dallas Clark. This is precisely the kind of route the Ravens love to jump and lead to turnovers in the 07 playoff game. Peyton did a great job protecting the ball last week, throwing only one meaningless pick late in the first half (ironically, on the route I just described). If Ray Lewis and company can hang with Clark, and cause turnovers, the Colts are in trouble. If Manning can exploit the Ravens over the middle, it bodes well for the offense.
9. Watch Manning's knee. Why? It's fine, but he'll have to prove it. He'll likely be on the move throughout the game as he has been all season. Some people hate simple explanations and conjure up Kaiser Soze under every rock. The Colts problem is Dungy's schedule, Manning's knee, the new stadium, Marvin's legal issues. Most of those will continue linger as utterly false explanations, but hopefully after watching Peyton avoid the rush all day, people will realize that his knee really isn't the problem.
10. Watch to see if the Ravens are actually any good. They have a great DVOA on Footballoutsiders, but their only two wins came against the Browns and Bengals, who are admittedly two of the worst teams in the NFL. The Ravens used those wins to build themselves a reputation of being really good, but no one knows how good. They played two very good teams and lost close, tough games, so the jury is out still.
11. Watch for divided loyalties. New Ravens coach John Harbaugh is the brother of Indy Colts icon Jim Harbaugh. His sister is IU coach Tom Crean's wife. It's always been fairly easy to dislike the Ravens given their hatred for Indy, Brian Billick's general smugness, and you know, the whole murder thing with their star linebacker, but by all accounts Harbaugh is a good guy, whose familial connections make it easy to pull for him.
12. Watch for an actual Must Win Game, for us anyway. The phrase is tossed around constantly in the NFL. The Colts can't lose this game heading into a double header at Green Bay and at Tennessee. They just can't. The future of this blog may well depend upon it. It's a grind to write about a middling team. Winners are more fun to cover.
13. Watch for a lack of faith. The national media is down on the team. The local media is down on the team. The fans love them, but would bet against them if you put a gun to their head. This would be a good week for a random 41-0 blowout. Deshawn saw the light last week, but even he is waivering now.
14. Watch the South. The Colts have no business being in second place, but there they are. The streaking Titans are off this week, and the Jags are at Denver. A win against Baltimore might setup a two team dogfight to the finish. A loss, and the Titans are breathing a lot easier, especially since they would have already beaten two of the three teams the Colts will have lost to.
15. Watch for the same old thing. Baltimore is built from the same mold as the Bears, Vikings, and Jags. Actually, you could argue they made the mold. The Colts have struggled at times against bruising teams. Splitting these four games would be acceptable. Oh yeah, in three weeks we play the Titans again. And then the Steelers two weeks after that. Running and defense...get used to it.
16. Watch for a miracle. We're getting used to seeing #18 do the impossible, and the confidence the team has in his ability to bring them back has to be sky high. In three straight games, Manning has lead the team on brilliant, breathtaking fourth quarter comebacks. At this point, we all ought to no better than to freak out if the Colts fall behind early. As long as 18 is upright, there is always a chance.
17. Watch for revenge. What for? Who knows. The Ravens always have a bitch about the Colts. Blah, blah, blah, we stole their team. Blah, blah, blah, we kicked them out of the '06 playoffs. Blah, blah, blah, we embarrassed them on national TV last season... Blah, blah, blah Peyton has destroyed all of their homeboy Johnny U's records. Oh yeah, and Indy has won 5 straight against Baltimore. Oh ok. I guess they have a reason to come in pissed off.
18. Watch for a split decision. Demond thinks the Colts are headed for a big win 24-19. Deshawn has a baaaad feeling about this and thinks the Ravens come in and destroy the Colts hilarious line 30-10. Deshawn really hopes Demond is the smart one, and hey, there's a first time for everything, right?
Is your hindsight 20/20? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org