**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday AFC Showdown Against the Ravens
**Indianapolis Colts (9-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Sunday, November 22, 2009 (1:00 p.m. EST)
M&T Bank Stadium (71,008 capacity) – Baltimore, MD
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1**
With another week lies another difficult challenge for the Indianapolis Colts.
This week, the Colts take their 9-0 record to the city of Baltimore, where they will face a familiar, and fierce, Ravens team.
The Colts and Ravens are meeting in the regular season for the third consecutive year and seventh time since 2002. While Indianapolis has won its last six games against the Ravens, it knows going against Baltimore, and one of the most feared defenses in the league, will not be easy.
"We have played them consistently throughout the years, and they've always been a great challenge for us," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "We are familiar with what they do, and we know we have our work cut out for us."
Last year, the Colts jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and beat the Ravens, 31-3. But like last week's game against New England, the Colts are not thinking about the past and instead are focused at the task at hand.
"This week is going to be another good challenge for us," tight end Dallas Clark said.
The Ravens are 5-4 this year, but an impressive 3-1 at home. Baltimore's lone loss at M&T Bank Stadium this year came to Cincinnati in Week 5, when the Bengals scored a go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds.
With so many games between the Colts and the Ravens in recent years, Caldwell said he is expecting a "fever-pitch sort of atmosphere" Sunday afternoon.
"There's not a stadium we walk into to where we don't get the absolute best from the fans," Caldwell said. "They're loud. They're enthusiastic. They are really trying to root their team to victory. It's going to be just like what we've seen in every stadium."
As for the team they will be facing once inside, Caldwell said the Ravens are much better than their record indicates.
"There's no question, they are a talented team," the Colts coach said. "They are like a lot of teams that we're seeing right now, they're certainly ready to explode and move forward. I think they're ascending. We'd better get ready for them."
Not much scares Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
But having gone against the Colts so much in the past, Lewis knows his opponent on Sunday is a worthy adversary, to say the least.
"You've probably got the best team in football coming in here undefeated," Lewis said. "So, of course, we've got our hands full."
A 10-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year, Lewis said he expects another classic battle between Indianapolis' prolific offense and Baltimore's swarming defense this weekend.
And with that battle comes the chess match between Lewis and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The two are not only known as two of the best at their position, but some of the most vocal at the line-of-scrimmage.
"Some of it is a bunch of baloney, from him and me, but then some of it means a lot," Lewis said. "That's kind of the chess match – what's real and what's not. If we bait him into thinking we're in something that we're not, we win that down. If he baits us into finding a weakness, then he wins that down, things like that.
"It's going to be a 60-minute chess match, it always has. Every time we play each other there's always classic games out of us because of the way they understand our defense and we understand their offense. It comes down to playmakers making plays," he said.
Lewis said the Colts' biggest playmaker, Manning, "is playing out of his mind right now."
"Which is always expected with him," Lewis said. "But I think a lot of guys around him are making plays as well."
With Manning at the helm, the Colts' passing offense leads the NFL in yards, touchdowns and first downs. In addition, no team is better at converting on third down (50 percent) and no team is allowing fewer sacks per pass play.
Manning is facing an opponent he has played seven times before and has achieved significant success against. The Colts quarterback has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions against the Ravens, with the most recent interception coming in 2002.
Lewis said he attributes Manning's success to his ability to read coverages, change plays and identify weaknesses in a defense.
"You've got to give all the credit to him," Lewis said. "That's why you've got to prepare totally, totally different when you prepare for a guy like this."
Manning was equally complimentary of the Ravens, who he described as one of the best defenses in the league year-in and year-out.
"They're an excellent defense, so it's really a tough week of preparation – preparing (not only) for obviously good players, but multiple looks," Manning said. "The key is just trying to execute, trying to protect the ball, and you have to be kind of aggressive and patient together, which in a lot of ways those are opposite words, but I think that's important. It's always a great challenge playing against these guys."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RAVENS
When people think about the Ravens, they think defense.
And while Caldwell said there are a number of things that concern him about Baltimore, the team's defense, as usual, stands out.
"Obviously, they have a defense that is relentless," Caldwell said. "They are very, very physical."
The Ravens are surrendering just 17.1 points per game, fifth-best in the league, and also possess a top-five rushing defense to go along with a unit known for creating chaos.
Nevertheless, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said he is never satisfied with his team's performance.
"We haven't had quite the turnovers that the Ravens are accustomed to having," Harbaugh said. "That will be a difficult challenge, obviously, this week, as well."
While Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs is listed as out and will miss Sunday's game, the Ravens still have plenty of star power on defense, highlighted by Lewis.
"He is one of the premier players that have ever played this game," Caldwell said. "He's a guy who'll certainly be a Hall of Famer at some point in time when he retires. He's as effective a leader and as fine a football player that has played that position in a long time. We have a lot of respect for him."
Caldwell also could not give enough praise to Ravens safety Ed Reed, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and 2004 Defensive Player-of-the-Year.
"He may be one of the most instinctive players I've ever seen on a football field," Caldwell said. "He can cover an incredible amount of ground in a short period of time. Not only does he run fast and is a big hitter, but his instincts are just unbelievable. I think oftentimes players get a sense that they can see the entire field in a chunk and know what's coming and know what to anticipate. He is one of those guys. He reacts like you can't believe. He'll amaze you at least two or three times when you watch him on film. He just makes incredible plays."
Caldwell also has seen improvement in Baltimore's offense, which he said is equally as physical as their defense.
"They run the ball at you extremely well with a great group of backs and (they have) a quarterback that can function very will with receivers that are talented," he said.
Under center and leading the offense is Ravens second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, one of the NFL's most accurate quarterbacks.
"He's not where Peyton Manning is right now, experience-wise. He's had some ups and downs, but we're pleased with how he's come along," Harbaugh said.
Caldwell described Baltimore's offense as "very effective" and said with players like running back Ray Rice and tight end Todd Heap they are a team that can strike at any time.
"All we see is a lot of weapons over there that they utilize," Caldwell said. "And utilize them effectively."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Friday with WR-Hank Baskett (illness) and LS-Justin Snow (elbow) listed as probable for Sunday's game at Baltimore. Listed as questionable are DB-Antoine Bethea (foot), DT-Eric Foster (back), DE-Dwight Freeney (hip), WR-Pierre Garcon (ankle), TE-Gijon Robinson (concussion) and QB-Jim Sorgi (right shoulder). Listed as out for Sunday are OT-Dan Federkeil (concussion), DB-Aaron Francisco (ankle), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DB-Kelvin Hayden (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).
• "I truly believe it's because of his knowledge of the game. He reads coverages probably better than any quarterback in the history of this game. That's why disguising is most important – not letting him know what you're in because he has the ability to check from run to pass and pass to run, things like that. He knows where the weaknesses are in defenses. So, you've got to give all the credit to him. That's why you've got to prepare totally, totally different when you prepare for a guy like this." – Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
• "It's just one of those things where an area in which we have not performed quite like we'd want to consistently. We have to just constantly keep working on it. That's one of the things about this league, you just have to keep trying to get better every week, and some weeks we've been able to run it and run it pretty well, but then there have been other times when we fell short of what we'd like to accomplish. That's an area that we try to emphasize every week and stress the importance of it. There's that old coaching axiom that you achieve what you emphasize. We try to emphasize that, and hopefully we'll continue to get better." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on the team's running game
• "It's a real hot button topic here. People here just love Matt. I love Matt. Matt's one of my best friends, as a player in this league, and we've known each other a long time. He'll be a competitor this week, and when you go up against the guys that you care the most about and play against them, you want to put your best foot forward, figuratively. We'll just try to do the best we can. The Colts are very fortunate to have him. He's a class act, he's a great person and he's a very good kicker." – Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh on Colts kicker Matt Stover coming back to Baltimore this Sunday
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) CLARK GOES FOR TIGHT END RECORD
Dallas Clark's first reception Sunday will be a record-breaking one.
Clark needs just one catch to surpass Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey for the Colts franchise record for career receptions by a tight end (320).
"It's quite an accomplishment when it does indeed happen," Caldwell said. "Dallas is a guy who works extremely hard. He's been a valuable weapon for us. Even more so, his presence in our locker room has been just absolutely incredible.
"It also would be an incredible feat because the guy (Mackey) whose record he would break was something special. That was a special guy who held that record for so long."
Mackey is considered the best tight end in Colts history and a player who helped revolutionize the position.
The award given to the best tight end in college football every year is known as the Mackey Award, an honor Clark received at Iowa.
"That award meant a lot to Dallas coming out of college," Manning said. "I think he has a great appreciation for who John Mackey was before he got drafted by the Colts. I know he has more now."
2) A MATCH-UP TO WATCH FOR
Outside of the center and quarterback, no player on the Ravens touches the ball more than second-year running back Ray Rice.
The Ravens' speedster leads the team in rushing with a 5.2 yards per carry average (128 attempts, 662 yards) and also is the team's leading receiver with 49 catches for 451 yards.
The dual-threat back has scored seven touchdowns this season and is atop of the Colts' priority list this Sunday.
"He definitely will get the ball," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "That's a guarantee. And he does a good job when he gets it."
Brackett should know. While the two never played together, both Brackett and Rice attended Rutgers University. Brackett said he and some of Rutgers' older players took Rice under their wing and became very familiar with what the running back can do.
"He has a low center of gravity, runs the ball well, has good vision and also has that home run speed," Brackett said.
While Baltimore's offense presents many challenges, safety Melvin Bullitt said the number one obstacle will be stopping the run.
"That's what they like to do," he said. "They have been throwing a lot, but if we stop the run and get them to keep throwing, then I think that will play more in our favor with our edge rushers, and then hopefully let us do some good things in the secondary."
3) THE STREAK CONTNUES
After defeating the Patriots 35-34 last week, the Colts extended their regular-season winning streak to 18 games, tied for the second-longest in NFL history.
New England's 21-game winning streak from 2006-08 remains atop the list.
As for how much the Colts are concerned with their winning streak, the answer would be very little.
"That wasn't one of our goals coming into the year," Caldwell said. "We have to focus in on making certain that we look at the next game. The next game is the most important game, and that's the only thing that we focus on."