Colts vs. Ravens: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Wild Card Weekend Clash
The Indianapolis Colts will travel to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon to take on the Baltimore Ravens in a game that could have many fans closely related to both franchises on an elevated emotional alert.
Among the many storylines this matchup possesses is that the Colts once called Baltimore home. Though a long time ago, Sunday's tilt is sure to not only revive some sour memories but create fresh traditions in this potentially new rivalry.
While the entire postseason is built on how each team matches up against its opponent, this particular game features some very intriguing matchups that will help decide the outcome.
Ray Rice vs. Colts Run Defense
Those who follow the Baltimore Ravens were probably frustrated at times this season as to how the team utilized Ray Rice. The all-purpose running back was used very sporadically and had his least-productive season (in terms of yardage) since his rookie year.
While the Indianapolis Colts offense isn't necessarily the most dynamic in the league, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck seems to do the right things at exactly the right times to win ball games.
The Ravens will need to mitigate those opportunities. Feeding Rice the ball is the most integral technique in accomplishing that goal.
Indianapolis enters the playoffs with the league's 29th-ranked rush defense, allowing 137.5 yards per game. The Colts have also allowed a second-worst 5.1 yards per carry while yielding 14 rushing touchdowns.
While their passing defense isn't markedly better in terms of efficiency, teams know that running the ball increases the chance of beating the Colts.
Colts Wide Receivers vs. Ravens Secondary
Though the Indianapolis Colts no longer have Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark as receiving targets, Reggie Wayne has found the fountain of youth and has helped usher in Andrew Luck and a young group of weapons for the rookie quarterback.
Rookies T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, along with veteran Donnie Avery create a very reliable and all-around stable of targets for Luck.
The Baltimore Ravens have actually played a respectable brand of defense this season, considering the copious amount of injuries they have had to deal with.
The Ravens pass defense ranks 17th in the NFL, allowing just over 228 yards per game while yielding a second-best 15 touchdowns.
However, Luck has done a fabulous job of spreading the field—which could be very crucial against a banged up Baltimore defense.
Ravens vs. Training Table
When thinking of teams most affected by injuries this season, the Baltimore Ravens come to mind first.
Though not the entire list of names, the Ravens have been without Lardarius Webb, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Anquan Boldin and Jimmy Smith for various reasons at some point this season.
That is a lot of production and leadership lost, which is a testament to this team actually finishing with a 10-6 record.
The Ravens held out several players during Week 17's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals but hope to be close to full strength come Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
However, as players try to get up to game speed—while also nursing their injuries—this could be a huge factor in how the game turns out.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Jacoby Jones
NFL games are oftentimes decided by one play. Sunday's matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens features two players that possess the capability to do just that.
The Colts' T.Y. Hilton and the Ravens' Jacoby Jones are the x-factors on their respective team. They both play wide receiver and handle the bulk of the return duties on special teams.
Though they obviously won't take the field at the same time, Sunday's matchup could be decided by a big play downfield or a game-changing punt return. Look for Hilton and/or Jones to be the hero if that is the case.
Youth vs. Experience
Sunday's matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens is the primary example of youth vs. experience this postseason.
While the Colts enter with several veterans anchoring their roster—Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, among others—this team has been energized by a handful of rookies, leading to their postseason berth.
Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, receiving targets T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and running back Vick Ballard have all played vital parts in the Colts' run this season.
The Ravens, on the other hand, are chock-full of gritty veterans with a multitude of playoff experience.
Though Baltimore does have a few young players in key spots (Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Courtney Upshaw), guys like Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed are the unequivocal leaders of this team.
While the experience of the Ravens will certainly play a huge part in Sunday's outcome, there is something to also be said about the lack of pressure that comes with the Colts' youth.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.