Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens: Predicting Winners of 3 Key Duels
The Indianapolis Colts' Wild Card Game against the Baltimore Ravens will rest on three key duels. These are highlighted by the battle between the two quarterbacks.
That clash could be determined by the outcome of another intriguing duel between two prolific pass-rushers. For one of these quarterbacks to shine, he will need help from one of the two outstanding, veteran wide receivers involved in this game.
Here is a prediction of who will win these three key duels and ultimately decide this Wild Card clash.
Andrew Luck vs. Joe Flacco
Can Joe Flacco's playoff experience finally halt Andrew Luck's incredible first-year momentum? It's a testament to how well Luck has performed as a rookie that many might give him the edge.
That's a sentiment that isn't without merit. After all, Luck has thrown for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns. His 18 interceptions stained his stat line, but Luck hasn't committed a turnover in his last three games.
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It won't be Flacco's experience that is Luck's biggest problem. It will be the savvy of Baltimore's smart defense that could rattle 2012's first overall pick.
The unit isn't the awesome force it once was and ranked 17th overall in the regular season. However, the group do have the happy knack for stepping up its performance levels in the playoffs.
It could also be buoyed by the emotional motivation provided by Ray Lewis announcing his retirement. Trying to win one more for arguably the greatest inside linebacker to ever play could be a key incentive.
Flacco might only need to be efficient if the Ravens can control things on the ground. The Colts aren't a tough pass defense, but they are an opportunistic bunch.
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If Flacco stays away from ball hawks like Darius Butler, he should be able to make big plays downfield. He was near-flawless against the New York Giants in Week 16.
That was a performance the Ravens really needed and Flacco delivered. Winning in the clutch is something of a rarity for 2008's fourth-overall pick, but Flacco could be primed for a productive Wild Card Weekend.
Advantage: Joe Flacco
Reggie Wayne vs. Anquan Boldin
Both Flacco and Luck depend on the brilliance of an experienced pass-catcher. For Flacco, that means a big game from Anquan Boldin.
The tough veteran remains Baltimore's most reliable wide receiver. Boldin still excels at using his powerful frame and understanding of coverages to exploit zone defenses.
The 32-year-old could victimize a Colts pass defense that ranked 21st in 2012. Indianapolis rely on physical player from cornerbacks Butler and Vontae Davis.
That approach won't bother Boldin and he should be able to wear down the Colts secondary. However, he could still find himself upstaged by the magnificent Reggie Wayne.
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The 34-year-old has accelerated Luck's development and remains the most effective weapon for the Colts. Wayne has hauled in 106 catches, including some truly, awe-inspiring grabs.
He has provided Luck with a dependable outlet from trouble and a consistent source of big plays. Baltimore's 17th-ranked pass defense will struggle to cope with Wayne's intelligent route running.
The Ravens will match up with their best corner Cary Williams and probably use Ed Reed to help slow Wayne down.
Advantage: Anquan Boldin
Robert Mathis vs. Paul Kruger
Of course, the best hope of stopping receivers like Boldin and Wayne might be stopping passes getting to them in the first place. That means pass-rushers like Robert Mathis and Paul Kruger will have to dominate.
Both led their team in sacks and Mathis made a particularly smooth transition to the Colts' new-look 3-4 scheme. The fleet-footed edge-rusher has troubled the Ravens in the playoffs in the past.
He might also benefit from the attention paid to rush partner Dwight Freeney. However, Freeney isn't the force he was and Mathis should be the main focus for the Ravens offensive line.
Kruger has been exceptional this season. He has carried much of the pass-rush load and finished the regular season with nine sacks.
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Kruger could capitalize on his matchup with rather rigid right tackle Winston Justice. Pressuring Luck will be the key for the Ravens. Teams like the New England Patriots had great success blitzing the rookie and speeding up his decision making.
If the Ravens come after Luck, Kruger will be a big part of that plan. He could dominate.
Advantage: Paul Kruger
The Ravens will win these three duels, but that won't result in a dominant victory. The Colts have stayed close in most of their big games during the season and that won't change in the playoffs.
However, the experience and motivation of the Ravens will eventually wear down the youthful and plucky Colts
Predicted Score: Indianapolis Colts 20-30 Baltimore Ravens
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