Sunday, December 30, 2012
Quick Take: Colts at Ravens
By Paul Kuharsky
Five things to know about next Sunday's Indianapolis Colts-Baltimore Ravens AFC wild-card game at M&T Bank Stadium:
Familiarity: When the Colts hired Chuck Pagano to take over as head coach, they hired him away from the Ravens, with whom he was defensive coordinator. He should have special insight into Baltimore on both sides of the ball. But John Harbaugh and the Ravens will have an understanding of what Pagano is looking to do as well. The Ravens' offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell, was coach of the Colts from 2009-11. While Indianapolis has a lot of turnover and new schemes in place, Caldwell knows plenty about a lot of the key holdovers. On the fan level, the Colts playing in Baltimore always brings out an extra degree of hostility, as the team’s departure from the city created the need for its recruitment of the Browns (who became the Ravens) from Cleveland.
Turnovers: The Colts have been a bad team with turnovers all season, giving away 18 interceptions and nine fumbles while taking the ball away only 15 times. But they fared well against the Texans in their regular-season finale with two Vontae Davis interceptions of Matt Schaub and no turnovers. Still, if they fall into the problems that created their minus-12 turnover ratio, giveaways tend to hurt more in the postseason. The Ravens finished the regular season at plus-nine. Safety Ed Reed is aging, but he has a propensity for making interceptions in big games.
Regular-season carryover: Pagano talked a lot with his team about carrying mojo into the playoffs, and the Colts played their starters all of Sunday in a game that didn’t mean anything to their playoff positioning. Indy’s 28-16 win hurt the AFC South-rival Texans. Indianapolis has won two in a row and five of six. The Ravens had a giant 33-17 win over the New York Giants in Week 16. But they’ve lost four of their past five and didn’t go all out to win their finale the way the Colts did. Joe Flacco threw only eight passes before he took a seat, and Ray Rice had just three carries.
Rookie readiness: The Colts are super-reliant on rookies well beyond quarterback Andrew Luck. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and running back Vick Ballard are starters and T.Y. Hilton is the third receiver. There are four other rookies on the roster, and another five guys who aren't technically rookies but qualify as first-year players. The speed and intensity of playoff games elevate a notch. Are the Colts ready for it? Or does the bigness of the setting finally affect them somehow?
Time: Luck holds the ball too long at times in an effort to make a play, and sometimes the rush is on him too quickly because the protection is less than stellar. When he has time and space to step into his throws, he can deliver some impressive passes. When he's being hit as he releases the pass, things get exponentially more difficult. The Ravens' defense is no longer the team's strength, but if Baltimore can find ways to pressure Luck, it can really change the game.