Colts-Ravens: Indianapolis Faces a Make-or-Break Early-Season Test

Sean O'BrienCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2008

“There are a lot of different ways to look at close losses. Initially, they’re a lot harder to take than a bigger loss, but in the long run, there’s going to be a lot of things we can learn from these games, and as long as we come out better because of it and start winning these types of games, that will definitely make us better.”– Joe Flacco, QB of the Baltimore Ravens

Week Six isn’t one full of exciting matchups. You’ve got the Bears vs. the Falcons, the Panthers vs. the Bucs, the Chargers vs. the Pats and that’s about it. Wait...I feel like I’m missing something. Oh, right—the Ravens vs. the Colts.

Both teams stand at 2-2 going into this game, as they each had early season byes. Baltimore is coming off a tough, last-minute loss to the undefeated Titans while Indianapolis is still flying high after a huge fourth-quarter comeback against the winless Houston Texans.

These Week Five games really put into perspective where these teams are at right now. Granted, the Texans played a good game last week, but it doesn’t change the fact they went into it winless.

The fact that Houston committed a lot of mistakes at the end, and the Colts managed to capitalize on them, doesn’t change the fact that Indianapolis nearly lost to a winless team.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Ravens have played two AFC contenders, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Titans, down to the wire. Though they would eventually lose both games, it is a testament to their skill that they played these teams so close.

Let’s break down the matchup, shall we?

In the passing game, the Colts are ranked seventh in the league, averaging 245.5 yards a game in the air. The Ravens’ pass defense is allowing a league low of 128.5 yards per game, making them first in the league.

That being said, Indianapolis will have to stop relying on Ol’ Faithful (Peyton Manning) to engineer last-minute comebacks and will have to turn more to Joseph Addai if they want to win.

Rookie QB Joe Flacco, while showing a lot of impressive qualities, has his offense sitting at 31st in the league when it comes to passing. The Ravens are only averaging 136.0 passing yards per game and Flacco has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions. The Colts’ D is fourth in the league at stopping the pass, only allowing 164.5 yards per game.

Passing advantage: The Indianapolis Colts

When it comes to the battle in the trenches, the Colts' offense is only averaging 67.8 yards per game on the ground. This makes them 32nd in the league for rushing offense. On the other side, the Baltimore defense ranks first in the league, allowing only 64.0 yards per game on the ground.

The Ravens rank fourth in the league with their multi-headed running attack, averaging 153.8 yards per game on the ground. The Indianapolis defense is ranked last in the league when it comes to stopping the run, allowing 188.5 yards per game.

Boy, last in the league at running and last at the league in stopping the run vs. fourth in the league at rushing and first at stopping the rush. This was a hard one.

Rushing advantage: The Baltimore Ravens

When comparing the defenses, there can be no arguments. The Ravens have a frighteningly good defense, and the Colts aren’t stopping anyone.

Defensive advantage: The Baltimore Ravens

Keys to Victory

The Colts’ defense will have to step up and stop the run, forcing Joe Flacco to use his arm to win the game. If they can’t do this, they will lose this game. Peyton can only win you so many games.

The Ravens will have to establish the run early to set up some play-action passes and limit the amount of throws Flacco gets. We saw against the Titans that he is human and makes some bad decisions when under pressure.

Their defense will have to get in Manning’s face and really shut down the pass to keep the game within grasp. You can bet after two narrow losses they will be hungry to push this game out of reach as early as possible.

In the end, Baltimore’s defense and power running game should prove superior enough to get the W. If Indianapolis somehow pulls this one off, I will be forced to give them immense amounts of credit, because the odds are stacked heavily against them.

My prediction: Ravens-20, Colts-13

MVP of the Game: Le’Ron McClain – 18 carries, 77 yards, 2 TDs


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