I’m breaking out of the usual format for this preview, because this game will be broken down and picked apart hundreds of times before it starts tomorrow night. Basically, in my mind there’s four things that need to happen for the Ravens to win this game.
1. Run the ball well.
We all saw what happened last week when the run game was (more than) established early and mostly maintained throughout the game. Over 230 total rushing yards were enough to let Joe Flacco just hand the ball off the whole game and let the defense comfortably do its work. By no stretch of the imagination will there be that many rushing yards tomorrow night, but at least hitting the team’s season average is a must, and that must be established early.
2. Pressure the QB to force turnovers.
Against Peyton Manning, this is much easier said than done. He’s so composed and in the zone while being in the pocket that pressure doesn’t affect him that much. With that said, Manning threw 16 interceptions this season, his most since 2002, while basically packing it in for two games. He’s not as mobile as Tom Brady, so there might be more sacks, but he’s much, much better at protecting the ball. Any chance the Ravens’ defense gets from the pressure they put on him, they will need to take.
3. Don’t leave the game in the hands of the special teams. (i.e. score touchdowns).
We’ve all been reminded of the fiasco that occurred in the regular season matchup between these two teams where from the 1-yard line, the Ravens couldn’t pound in a touchdown. Interestingly enough, the extra 4 points from getting in the endzone probably would have ensured victory. With Matt Katula’s elbow and a guy kicking the ball whose name is not Matt Stover, the more touchdowns (and less field goals), the better.
4. Give Flacco and the receivers the opportunity to make plays.
4-10 for 40-some yards just won’t fly against the Colts. In Week 11, Flacco put up some nice numbers against the Colts and finished with a nice 65% completion rate and 256 yards. If he can pull out some big plays and maybe throw a TD, those would be good numbers to put up. On Sunday, Flacco was a non-factor, and Ray Rice was his main target so obviously his receivers were barely involved. In Week 11, Derrick Mason blew up for his biggest game of the year with 9 receptions and 142 yards. With the emergence of Kelley Washington and even Demetrius Williams, a good early showing from Mason could open up doors for Washington and Williams to exploit a Colts secondary overplaying Mason.
All in all, it will be a very tough game, but also a winnable game. If the Ravens, especially the defense, play the way they Sunday, nobody can beat them. That was championship football in cold weather, in a place and situation that was thought to be impossible to win in. It’s hard to imagine the wave of momentum they’re going on right now, but when it comes down to it, the playoffs matter one game at a time. If they show up, the Ravens can win. There’s a great, great chance they will. The Colts haven’t really played as a whole unit in four weeks, the Ravens played incredible only 6 days ago. Let’s hope the same team shows up in Indy that did in Foxborough.