Playing Ravens in Baltimore Always Difficult, Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – In many ways, this week is a lot like last week.
Peyton Manning, in his 12th season as the Colts' starting quarterback and coming off AFC Offensive Player-of-the-Week honors for last weeks' performance against New England, said while the prime-time, high-profile nature of the Colts' rivalry with last week's opponent drew national attention, the truth is their game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens is fairly similar.
As is the case with New England, the Colts play the Ravens nearly every season.
As is the case with New England, the teams are familiar with one another.
And as is the case with New England, the Ravens are good.
Really, really good.
"It [playing Baltimore] is a grind," Manning said Wednesday as the AFC South-leading Colts (9-0) prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (5-4) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's a tough challenge. Like New England, it's almost become like a division game. We've played them every year and played them in the playoffs a couple of years back.
"It's a very familiar opponent, but it is a physical and mental challenge."
The Colts (9-0), one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL along with New Orleans, have won a franchise-record 18 consecutive regular-season games, which is tied with New England (2003-04) for the second-longest such streak in NFL history. The Patriots hold the record with 21 consecutive regular-season victories from 2006-08.
The Colts, a playoff team the last seven seasons and the AFC South Champions from 2003-07, lead the AFC South by four games over Houston and Jacksonville.
The Cincinnati Bengals currently have the AFC's second-best record (7-2), with New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Denver at 6-3.
The Ravens, one three teams at 5-4 with Jacksonville and Houston, made the AFC Championship Game a year ago before losing to Pittsburgh. They have lost four of the last six games after winning their first three.
Baltimore is in its second season under Head Coach John Harbaugh, and its first under Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison, who this past offseason replaced Rex Ryan, now the head coach of the York Jets. Manning said it's difficult during pre-game preparations to identify specific differences in the defense.
"I probably could tell you after the game," Manning said. "He [Ryan] is not there, so it's a different defensive coordinator and anytime that happens, there's going to be change. You don't know if they will play us differently than they have in the past, but the things that are consistent are some of the same players.
"If you have [middle linebacker] Ray Lewis, if you have [safety] Ed Reed – [outside linebacker Jarrett] Johnson's having a good year at the outside linebacker . . . It's a little bit of, 'prepare for what you see, but be prepared as always for something different, and be able to adjust to it.'"
The Colts have won six consecutive games against Baltimore, winning regular-season games in 2002, 2004-05 and 2007-08 and winning at Baltimore, 15-6, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. Indianapolis beat the Ravens 44-20 in 2007 and 31-3 last season, but Manning said the scores do not reflect the difficulty playing a team that traditionally features some of the NFL's top defensive players.
"With these guys, you kind of have to be aggressive and patient," Manning said. "It's kind of two opposites, but I believe in that. There can be some negative plays, but you hope your negative plays are throwaways, but not turnovers, not game-changing plays where you put your team in a tough situation.
"They're an aggressive bunch. You have to always be on your toes at all times."
The Ravens, Manning said, are a difficult opponent because of their aggressive nature on defense. Historically, they have emphasized unique blitzing and have had a knack for not only forcing turnovers, but converting the turnovers into points. The Ravens this season have 17 sacks in nine games, and they have intercepted opponents seven times. Reed has a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"They do a great job of stripped balls and tipped balls," Manning said. "Ed Reed always seems to come across the field and catch them, then they're looking to lateral and all of that. You have to protect the ball and have to stay out of penalties and 3rd-and-long situations. Those get tough to overcome.
"You just have to be good in the basic fundamentals of football, then you have to make some plays. They're tough against the run. They're tough on third down. They're a stingy bunch."
And while the game will not receive the national attention as last week's prime-time, come-from-behind 35-34 victory over New England, Manning said one reason for the Colts' ongoing winning streak is an ability to focus and prepare no matter a game's profile.
"We have enough veterans around here that can show the way," Manning said. "I think it helps that you're playing the Baltimore Ravens, a team that we are very familiar with and very familiar with how good of a team they are.
"[I] don't look at their record every time we play them. It's just a dogfight. Their defense is what we [the Colts' offense] focus on. They have a lot of the same guys, a tremendous scheme. From that standpoint, it's really not hard because you better have a good week of practice and a great week of preparation, mentally and physically.
"Going to Baltimore is one of the toughest places to play."
The Colts issued the first injury report of the week on Wednesday with the following players listed as did not participate in practice: WRs-Hank Baskett (illness), Pierre Garcon (ankle) and Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DBs-Antoine Bethea (foot), Aaron Francisco (ankle) and Kelvin Hayden (knee), OT-Dan Federkeil (concussion), DT-Eric Foster (back), DE-Dwight Freeney (not injury related-rested), TE-Gijon Robinson (concussion), LS-Justin Snow (elbow), QB-Jim Sorgi (right shoulder) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).