INDIANAPOLIS – A capsule look at the Colts' opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens of the AFC North.
Synopsis: From 2004 through 2009, the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens faced each other seven times in six seasons, including twice in the post-season. What became an annual battle of one of the NFL's top defensive units against one of the most explosive offenses was a date circled on most NFL fans' calendars.
Indianapolis once again will make the trip to Baltimore to face a Ravens team that currently sits atop the AFC North. Having won eight consecutive match-ups against Baltimore, including post-season play, the Colts will look to extend their streak over a Ravens club that has reeled off three victories in a row heading into Sunday's contest.
The Colts elected on a change at the quarterback position last week against New England. Dan Orlovsky took over as the Colts starter. Orlovsky proved to be a more than adequate replacement under center, throwing for 353 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 30-of-37 passing (81.1 pct). Orlovsky tied the ninth-highest completion percentage in franchise history and the highest since Peyton Manning completed 81.8 percent of his passes against Tennessee in 2009.
Orlovsky's success against the Patriots was the best to date through the 2011 season for Indianapolis, and he will look to build off of that success in week 14.
However, the Ravens boast one of the NFL's best defensive units, and it will try to apply pressure on Orlovsky from the outset of the game. A similar performance will be needed from the Colts offense come Sunday. They prepare to face a Ravens team that ranks third in the NFL in points surrendered and total defense.
"They're as tough a defensive unit as you'll face," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell of the Baltimore Ravens defense. "Not only because of the fact that they're extremely talented, but also because of the fact that they're complex. They give you a number of different looks, a number of different things to consider and deal with and they will blitz you at any point, anytime, anywhere. They create some problems."
Offensively, the Ravens have shown that they have one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, and they have not been hesitant to rely heavily on the abilities of Ray Rice.
Through 12 games this season Rice ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,473), trailing only Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (1,487). Rice has compiled 56 receptions and 208 carries, while averaging 5.6 yards per touch.
Coupled with Joe Flacco and a capable passing attack, the Colts defense will be tasked with slowing down an offense that has averaged the sixth-most points per game in the league (24.7).
"Now, on the other side of the ball, you look at them, and they are a run-oriented team, but they can also throw the ball," said Caldwell. "(Joe) Flacco can throw the ball well, but when you look at their game (Sunday against Cleveland), I think they had 55 rushing attempts, or something like that. Ray Rice had a banner day, so you're going to have to contend with them from the standpoint that they're a physical team that can hurt you in a number of different ways."
For the Colts, a victory would mark the first of the season, and one that Caldwell's club has continued to work hard for each week. Despite the struggles, Indianapolis has refused to yield any of the hard-work attitude and dedication that has given the club unprecedented success during the past decade. Caldwell echoed those thoughts when asked how the team has continued to fight, despite the challenges the season has presented.
"I think it's experience," said Caldwell. "I think there are guys that have, certainly, been a part of this organization for a long time, and certainly do a good job just in terms of setting an example. I think this is the kind of character that we look for, particularly when times are a bit tough. You need guys to be able to step up, keep fighting and not give in. I think they displayed that in a number of different positions across the field (Sunday). (It was) a very, very tough situation, but still we were able to come back and put together some good fourth-quarter drives and a couple of good stops defensively as well to narrow the score."
When asked about the difficult stretch of games facing the Colts, with three upcoming opponents all vying for playoff berths, Caldwell explained that the upcoming schedule would be nothing out of the ordinary.
"We haven't run into a team yet that hasn't been hungry, even up to this point," said Caldwell. "The games are just so precious, and they're so tough to win. Everybody that we face certainly presents a difficult task, and this one won't be any different. This is a team (Baltimore) that's playing well, and they're looking to keep that going. We're a team that's trying to certainly get our feet underneath us. It should be a good battle."
*2011 Record: *9-3, First in AFC North.
*Head Coach: *John Harbaugh, 4th season as Ravens and NFL Head Coach (41-19).
*Last game: *Baltimore defeated Cleveland, 24-10, staying atop the AFC North. Baltimore is now 4-0 on the season against AFC North opponents, and holds first-place in the AFC North by way of a head-to-head sweep against Pittsburgh. Ray Rice led the way for Baltimore, as carried the ball 29 times for 204 yards and one touchdown.
*2011 NFL Rankings: *Offense – Overall, 15th (345.0); Rushing, Tied-14th (114.8); Passing, 14th (230.2); Defense – Overall, 3rd (287.3); Rushing, 2nd (88.8); Passing, 5th (198.6)
*2011 Leading Passer: *Joe Flacco (240-434 comp., 2,895 yards, 55.3 pct., 13 TDs, 8 INTs, 78.3 rating)
*2011 Leading Rusher: *Ray Rice (208 carries, 926 yards, 9 TDs).
*2011 Leading Receiver: *Ray Rice (56 receptions, 547 yards, 2 TDs).
2011 Leading Sacker: Terrell Suggs (10.0).
2011 Turnover Breakdown: 4 (Tied-9th).
First-round draft choice: Jimmy Smith, cornerback. With the 27th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, Baltimore selected Jimmy Smith out of the University of Colorado. As a senior, Smith garnered first-team All-Big 12 honors, and his teammates selected him as the recipient of the Dave Jones Award as Colorado's most outstanding defensive player. Smith earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in his junior season.
*2010 Review: *Despite a 12-4 record, Baltimore finished second in the AFC North behind Pittsburgh. The Ravens were able to take a four-game winning streak into the playoffs and following a victory over Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, they prepared for a third meeting on the year against Pittsburgh. Baltimore went into halftime with a 21-7 lead over the Steelers in the Divisional Playoffs, but they were unable to hold onto the lead falling, 31-24.
Last time in Playoffs: L, 31-24 at Pittsburgh Steelers (2010).
*Last time in Super Bowl: *2000.
*Super Bowl Championships: *One.
*2010 Pro Bowl Selections: *Billy Cundiff K, Ray Lewis LB, Haloti Ngata DL, Ed Reed S, Terrell Suggs LB.
Quotable I: On the Ravens' success in the month of December:
"I think we have always just had good teams. We play good defense. We have been able to run the ball. I think that some years we have been better at running the ball, some years we have been better in different areas, I guess you'd say. But, we'd like to believe that everything we do is built for December. We are trying to be our best in December and January. The whole program is organized that way. I think our players understand that, and they begin to think that way. We try to improve throughout the course of the season in every area and be at our best this time of year."
--- Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh
Quotable II: On the health and availability of Ray Lewis:
"He (Ray Lewis) is doing quite well. He's resting. He was bouncing around the field yesterday before the game, did you notice? So, you saw what I saw. We are hopeful. I would love to give you a definitive answer, and I understand what you're saying, all the arguments. We are going to try to win the game against the Colts. That's going to be our challenge. We want to go in there full strength. Obviously, a healthy Ray Lewis, playing at the caliber he's capable of playing at, helps us beat the Colts. Is he going to be ready to do that? We don't know. He says he's going to be ready to do it. He's got some orthotics that may give him a chance to be able to do that. We'll just have to see how that goes this week, and we've been trying the last couple of weeks. We have, probably, been somewhat cautious. We want to make sure that he doesn't re-injure it. We'll just have to see how it goes again this week."
--- Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh