Not many people expected a close game when the 0-12 Indianapolis Colts faced the 9-3 Baltimore Ravens, and the Ravens didn’t disappoint as they simply overpowered the Colts defense with running back Ray Rice and overwhelmed the Colts offense with Terrell Suggs and their vicious pass rush.
The Ravens ultimately won 24-10 in a game where the score doesn’t really reflect how dominant they were.
The Ravens started hot, scored a touchdown on their opening drive and didn’t really look back. They managed to score 17 points before the Colts scored their first points of the game. Those points came on an Adam Vinatieri field goal and were set up by a long kickoff return that went into Ravens territory. The Colts also managed to score a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter as time expired.
The Ravens didn’t really do anything special in the game. They simply went out and played their style of tough, hard-nosed football.
The main problem for the Colts was that they couldn’t seem to stop the Ravens offense from moving the ball. When the Colts were able to slow down the Ravens running attack, the Ravens would throw it successfully, and when they were successful at stopping the passing game, the Ravens would simply run the ball successfully.
It really was an almost impossible game for the Colts to win because they were forced to start Dan Orlovsky with Peyton Manning injured on the sidelines, plus the Ravens are just playing extremely well—with few injuries besides Ray Lewis—on both sides of the ball. Simply put…the Ravens are a much better team this season as the records of both teams would imply.
As always, we learn more about the Ravens with each game whether they win or lose, so let’s take a look at what we learned about the Ravens after their 24-10 win over the Colts.
First of all, we need to qualify the Ravens' wins over the last two weeks because of the level of competition that they were facing.
Unfortunately for Ray Rice, the Ravens cannot play against the Cleveland Browns and Colts defenses every week. If he could, there’s little doubt that he would easily have well over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Neither the Browns nor the Colts have an answer for Ray Rice on their roster or in their game plan. That’s just the truth.
With the way Rice is running the football, the only hope for teams like the Browns and the Colts of stopping the Ravens consistently would be if the Ravens somehow beat themselves—which isn’t exactly out of the question given their record against losing teams this season. The fact is that the Ravens offense should expect to have great games against that level of competition.
That being said, the Ravens made the most of their opportunities over the last two weeks, and they still should be. Their offense has been balanced. They have ran the ball extremely well and seemed to have streamlined their passing game.
Their balanced approach to the offense has made them more effective, but perhaps their biggest achievement over the last few games has been that they’ve managed to get everyone involved in the offense. They have accomplished that by playing to the strengths of their players and allowing them to play off of each other.
One of the keys to the Ravens offense is that they are versatile.
Despite what many of his critics would tell you, Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but he’s not yet the kind of quarterback that can take over any game. He has one of the strongest, most accurate arms in the NFL is still lacking pocket and field awareness. He is a weapon that functions better when it’s complementing other weapons in the offense.
That is, Flacco isn’t a player like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, who will win games almost by themselves. The same could be said of Ray Rice.
As good as Rice is, he’s not the perfect running back. He’s definitely the best in the business when it comes to catching the football out of the backfield, but he’s not going to consistently run through arm tackles or push the pile like Jamal Lewis and Willis McGahee. Opposing teams have shown that Rice can be stopped in short yardage and goal-line situations if they exclusively commit to stopping the run.
That doesn’t mean that Flacco and Rice aren’t great players, because they really are. That just means that the Ravens aren’t always going to dominate games by simply riding either player all season long. They will need to find balance and build an offense around them, and that’s precisely what they’ve done.
The Ravens have used the struggles that they’ve had this season to build an offensive game plan that can beat teams in multiple ways. It’s been a long time coming and a rough developmental period, but the Ravens can now beat teams with Flacco and the passing game or Rice and the running game.
The Ravens may not have the best running or passing game in the league, but they have two very good, young players in Flacco and Rice. They have balanced their offense in a way where opposing defenses have to find a way to stop both the run and the pass simultaneously to stop them.
The Ravens certainly aren’t perfect on offense, but their balanced approach is the key to their success and the best building block for future games. That balanced offense is much more powerful than an offense with a maxed-out passing or running attack alone, and should help them beat any type of defense they face going forward.
Torrey Smith has definitely exceeded all expectations in his rookie season. After struggling with drops all offseason and preseason, no one would have guessed that he was capable of what he has done for the Ravens in his first season.
The funniest part is that people already started calling him a bust after a few dropped balls in the preseason. Luckily for the fans, Smith didn’t give up under their criticism but ignored it and had a breakout game in Week 2 with three touchdown catches in the first quarter.
Smith hasn’t been that dominant all season but has certainly impressed. He has 37 catches, 693 yards and six touchdowns on the season, but the effect that Smith has had on the Ravens offense goes far beyond the statistics.
Teams have started to play the Ravens differently because of Smith’s speed, and that fact has allowed the Ravens to be much more effective this season.
Speed was a big factor missing in the Ravens offense last season. Opposing defenses would simply create a cloud of defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and weren’t afraid of using their safeties to stop the run. That strategy would effectively kill the running game and since the Ravens receivers could not consistently threaten the deep area of the field, it would also kill the passing game.
This season, teams have started to respect the speed of Smith by playing their safeties deep in coverage. Although teams have been doing it since Week 2, it was never more evident than it was today. That’s probably because Lee Evans, who is also a speedster, was also on the field.
The fact that the safeties are playing deeper completely changes the dynamics of the game. There were many times today when Ray Rice would hit the second level of the defense after a yard or two and would only get hit by the safety further down the field.
When defenses have the luxury of playing the safeties in run support, a gain of eight yards may have only been two, and long runs like Rice had today may have been stopped before they started. That’s because the safeties are rarely drawn up in blocking assignments, so they are usually unblocked.
Forcing the safeties deep also has rewards in the passing game.
There were several times today when Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were running wide-open over the middle after shaking a linebacker in coverage. Losing the safety in short coverage forces defenses to cover the tight ends and slot receivers with linebackers or take defensive linemen off the field in favor of defensive backs. Either way, it’s forcing the defense out of its comfort zone, and that’s exactly what you want to do as an offense.
Terrell Suggs is having a phenomenal season so far and has 58 tackles, 13 sacks and an incredible six forced fumbles and two interceptions. He has definitely been the biggest benefactor of the Ravens aggressive scheme under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who said from day one that he wanted to “wreak havoc.”
The best part about Suggs’ game is that he’s not a pure pass rusher.
Sure, he’s as good as anyone in the league at rushing the passer this season but many people don’t realize that rushing the passer hasn’t always been greatest strength—even though he’s been very good at it from day one.
Suggs has been one of the most complete defensive players at his position for some time now.
Over the last nine seasons—yes, Suggs is in his ninth season despite being only 29 years old—Suggs has been one of the strongest outside linebackers against the run. He has also been a threat to drop into coverage. In short, Suggs has written the book on how to play the hybrid outside linebacker position. In fact, he was the first player to ever receive that official franchise designation.
The fact is that there isn’t a better defensive player in the league right now than Terrell Suggs.
The players around him also deserve credit for setting him up for his performance this season, but that is a two-way street. The Ravens defense wouldn’t be nearly as good without Suggs either. He’s the Ravens’ defensive MVP and should be one of the strongest candidates for the official Defensive Player of the Year Award if he keeps up his current level of play.
Again, we need to take the Ravens' last two wins in context. It’s easy to look like the best team in the league against the Browns and the Colts, but not even the harshest critic of the Ravens could tell you that they’re not getting better each week.
In fact, the Ravens seemed to have used the last two weeks to streamline their game plans on offense and defense.
On offense, the Ravens have centered their offense around Ray Rice and have complemented the running game with a strong passing game, and on defense, they have solved their pass rush problem and are consistently and effectively pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
They also seemed to have solved their pass protection issues that were plaguing them.
One of the biggest factors in pass protection has been the return of their best offensive lineman, Ben Grubbs, who missed six games with a toe injury. In the six games that Grubbs missed, the Ravens allowed 15 sacks on Flacco, and in the six games that he played in, they only allowed seven sacks. That shows how important Grubbs is to the Ravens offense.
That being said, the offensive line’s recent success isn’t all because of Grubbs’ return. Marshal Yanda, Matt Birk and Michael Oher have all been outstanding this season. Bryant McKinnie has certainly been an upgrade over Oher, who is built to play right tackle but struggled playing left tackle last season, but he definitely struggled when Grubbs was out. The combination of McKinnie and Andre Gurode, who replaced Grubbs at left guard, gave the Ravens a suspect left side of the line, and defenses attacked that weakness.
Once Grubbs returned, it gave the Ravens the break on offense to get their act together and find balance. They have certainly made the most of their opportunities, but as good as they’ve looked recently, they still have room to improve and, in fact, do seem to be getting better each week.
The same can be said of the defense.
The defense has been spectacular for the most part, but it went through a three-game stretch where it allowed an average of over 400 yards of total offense to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals and recorded only had four sacks. They have fought through those issues and have recorded 12 sacks in their last two games.
The Ravens certainly have not peaked yet.
Their potential is extremely high right now, and they have good, young talent mixed with productive veterans at almost every position. They should continue to get better and better, and with the playoffs approaching, Ravens fans can only hope that the will continue to get better so that they can peak in the playoffs and win a Super Bowl.