Sunday, December 30, 2012
Quick Take: Colts at Ravens
By Jamison Hensley
Five things to know about next weekend's Indianapolis Colts-Baltimore Ravens AFC wild-card Game at M&T Bank Stadium:
1. No quick exits. The Ravens (10-6) are limping into the playoffs having lost four of their past five games. But coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have never been one-and-done in the playoffs. The Ravens have won at least one playoff game for the past four seasons, and they've done it in impressive style. Under Harbaugh and Flacco, Baltimore's average margin of victory in its first playoff game has been 16.7 points. The last time the Ravens made the postseason and didn't win a playoff game was January 2007, when they fell to the Colts. Of course, Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Colts, not Andrew Luck.
2. Ray Rice factor. It's a well-known fact that the Ravens' chances of winning increase when they put the ball in the hands of Rice. Since drafting him in 2008, the Ravens are 23-3 (.885) when Rice gets 25 or more touches. They are 12-12 (.500) when he gets 15 or fewer. Rice should be busy in the wild-card game if the Ravens attack the weakness of the Colts' defense. Indianapolis entered the final week of the regular season ranked 30th against the run, allowing 139.9 yards rushing per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Ravens will get some insight on the Colts defense from offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who was Indianapolis' head coach from 2009 to 2011.
3. Stingy defense. There is a possibility that linebacker Ray Lewis will return this week, just 12 weeks removed from tearing his triceps on Oct. 14. Without Lewis, the Ravens have maintained a bend but don't break philosophy. This isn't the same dominant group from last season when Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator, but Baltimore has been among the best defenses in the red zone this season. The Ravens are 8-0 when they hold teams to 20 or fewer points. They are 2-6 when they allow more than 20 points. The Ravens tried to get their banged-up defense healthier by resting four defensive starters Sunday: Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) and safety Bernard Pollard (chest). This veteran defense is 2-1 against rookie quarterbacks this season, beating Brandon Weeden twice and losing to the combination of Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. Now, the Ravens get the Colts (11-5) and Luck, the No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft.
4. Protecting Flacco. The Ravens did a stellar job in not allowing a sack in Flacco's last full game a week ago. But pass protection is a big issue for Baltimore in these playoffs. Flacco was sacked eight times in the Ravens' three-game losing streak this month. While Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis aren't among the best pass rushers in the NFL anymore, the Ravens have struggled against speed rushers. Left tackle Michael Oher has allowed eight sacks this season and right tackle Kelechi Osemele has given up seven. Osemele also was injured in Sunday's regular-season finale.
5. Return game. Jacoby Jones was available for the Ravens to sign this offseason because he muffed a punt that led to the Texans' playoff loss to Baltimore. Jones will have a chance to have a better showing against the Colts, who rank in the bottom half of the NFL in punt and kickoff coverage. In being named to his first Pro Bowl, Jones has three returns for touchdowns this season (two on kickoff and one on punt).