INDIANAPOLIS – Facing one of their toughest tests of the 2011 season, the Colts travel to Baltimore for a Sunday afternoon contest with the 9-3 Ravens.
The Ravens are winners of their past three games and have won five of their last six outings.
A strong running game and one of the NFL's most physical defensives have led the Ravens to be one of the best teams in the AFC over the past decade.
Running back Ray Rice is coming off a career-high 204 rushing yards last week against Cleveland. Combined with fellow running back Ricky Williams, the Ravens carried the ball 55 times for 290 yards last Sunday.
"He's probably the best thing that happened to me this season," Rice said of Williams. "Ricky humbled me, he's a great guy and with everything that he's been through, he's just a steady teacher. He's always learning and trying to get better. I always pick his brain a little bit to see what's going on. He's one of the greatest things to happen to me this season, him and Vonta (Leach)."
Rice does it in the receiving department as well. He leads all NFL running backs with 547 reception yards.
Since 2008 in December/January, the Ravens are second in the NFL with 161.8 rushing yards per game.
After facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week, defensive end Dwight Freeney knows that his unit has a totally different task on its hands.
"Ray does it all for that team," Freeney said. "He's like Maurice (Jones-Drew) for Jacksonville. He has the ball in his hands a lot, and they should give it to him because he's talented. He catches screens out of the backfield, (he catches) check-downs and he runs the ball. They give him the ball 80 percent of the time. We understand that and we're going to have to find a way to contain him."
On the other side of the ball Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky will make his second straight start for Indianapolis.
Last week against New England, Orlovsky hit wide receivers 21 times for 275 yards, a season-high total in the passing game. Pierre Garcon had nine catches, while Austin Collie had seven and Reggie Wayne had five.
"They all have a unique skill set and a thing that they do well," Orlovsky said. "However many catches Reggie (Wayne) has in his career, then you're doing something right. All three are really good receivers, so it's a comfort level and you have a lot of trust in them. I guess I didn't see it until I was out there, but the competitive level that they have while out on the field kind of brings it out of you. You like playing with them, because of how competitive they are and how much they want to go out and compete and win. That was kind of an eye-opening thing for me to see and just appreciate being a part of (it)."
Orlovsky is facing one of the top defenses in the NFL on Sunday. It thrives in particular at M&T Bank Stadium. Since 2008 at home, the Ravens have led all NFL teams with forcing 72 turnovers, while allowing just 13.4 points per game.
In 2011, they have not allowed a point in the opening series and lead the NFL with 41 sacks.
"They are great performers," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "That's the thing that you see time and time again. These guys are active, and they're very capable in all areas. They're capable pass rushers, (Terrell) Suggs is probably having a banner year getting after the passer, and they have a number of other guys that certainly do a great job of collapsing the pocket. They do a great job in terms of defending the run, whether Ray Lewis is in there or not, whomever is there. When he's there, obviously, he's a great player. They still have guys that are able to fill in and they're still performing well. On the perimeter you don't find very many guys better than Ed Reed. He can cover a lot of ground, he's tenacious and he's a ball-hawk. Lardarius Webb is doing it on the outside as well. (Cary) Williams is doing well, and their first-round draft pick (Jimmy Smith), who just got a pick last week, is playing well also. Then, (Bernard) Pollard, who we've seen when he was with Houston is a very physical guy, a big guy, long and a very, very fine tackler. So they give you all kinds of problems, and they don't just do it one way. They do a great job of stopping the run, but they can also affect your (passing game), and you'll find some teams that are maybe good run-stoppers but can't defend the pass or vice versa. These guys can do both, and do both extremely well."
Any part of a strong 3-4 defense is man in the middle who can attract multiple blockers at the point of attack. At 6-4 and 330 pounds, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is that man for the Ravens.
"He sets a great tone for them, because he's not only a big man, but he's a big man that can run," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes you find guys that, maybe, they can take care of their gap, but this guy can run from sideline-to-sideline. He is very, very difficult to handle. They're strong down the middle. A lot of teams, when they're starting to build and construct their defense, they talk about, 'Hey, I want to be strong in the middle and have some good pass-rushers on the outside,' which they do. But they're strong down the middle – defensive line, interior, middle linebacker and safety. They are very, very strong down the middle of their defense."
The secondary is roamed by safety Ed Reed. The seven-time Pro Bowl performer had an interception in the 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Colts. His 57 career interceptions rank second in NFL history, with 33 coming in home games.
Orlovsky definitely will have his eye on Reed this Sunday, and the veteran quarterback wants to get over the hump.
"I just want to get a win," Orlovsky said. "I don't work as hard as I do, and none of us do, to go out and lose. Every Sunday it's our goal to go out and try and win. Trying and doing are two different things. You don't get points in this league or pats on the back for trying. The obvious thing is to get a win."
Colts 20, Ravens 3 – January 10, 2010
One week after the sixth-seeded Ravens beat the third-seeded Patriots by 19 points, the Colts showed why they were the top seed in the AFC by holding Baltimore to just three points in the second round of the playoffs. For the Ravens, their only points would come on the opening drive as the teams each kicked a field goal in the first quarter. After the Colts defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs, the offense took over with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Over the next eight minutes the Colts would march 75 yards in 14 plays as quarterback Peyton Manning hit wide receiver Austin Collie for a 10-yard touchdown reception. Once again the Colts defense forced a three-and-out and the offense did some late damage before halftime. Starting with 1:26 left on the clock, the Colts ate up all but three seconds with Manning and the offense driving 64 yards in eight plays as wide receiver Reggie Wayne scored on third-and-goal from the three-yard line. The teams traded punts to start the third quarter, then Indianapolis held Baltimore on downs near midfield. Safety Ed Reed intercepted Manning, but wide receiver Pierre Garcon forced a fumble on the 38-yard return. Tight end Dallas Clark recovered for the Colts at their 28-yard line. Back in business, Manning directed the club on a 14-play drive that resulted in a Matt Stover 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. The Colts defense stood tall afterwards as they forced three turnovers and a punt in the final 15 minutes.
Ravens running back Ray Rice against the Colts defense: Last week against the Browns, Rice ran for a career-high 204 yards, one of the top rushing performances in franchise history.
Indianapolis will have to contain a player who leads his team in rushing yardage and receptions.
In 2009, Rice became one of eight NFL players with 1,000 rushing yards and 700 reception yards in a season. In 2010, he became the seventh back since 1970 to record consecutive seasons with 1,200 rushing yards and 500 reception yards.
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky against the Ravens defense: Making his second straight start against one of the best teams in the AFC, Orlovsky will look to build on his performance from last Sunday. He finished the Patriots game 18-for-20 passing for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, bringing the Colts to within seven points of tying the game. He knows he will be facing one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Ravens rank in the top five of the major defensive categories in the NFL and are led by multiple Pro Bowlers.
-The Colts are on pace for 1,584 rushing yards which would be the most since 2007.
-Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has scored a point in 126 straight games.
-Colts linebacker Pat Angerer has 111 tackles, which is good for second in the NFL.
-Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is 0.5 sacks away from 100 in his career.
-Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon is on pace for 1,073 reception yards.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has caught a pass in 92 straight games.
-Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 25-5 at home in his career.
-The Ravens have won 16 of their past 17 home games.
-The Ravens lead the league with 41 sacks.
-Ravens Linebacker Terrell Suggs is 2nd in the AFC with 10 sacks.
-The Ravens are 24-9 in the final three months of the season under John Harbaugh.
-Ravens running back Ray Rice ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,473 yards and ranks second among running backs with 56 receptions.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the upcoming match-up against the Baltimore Ravens):
"They're as tough a defensive unit as you'll face 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. 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. (Joe) Flacco can throw the ball well but when you look at their game (last week), I think they had 55 rushing attempts, or something like that. Ray Rice had a banner day. 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. Their return game is a good return game as well. They have skilled defensive backs. They give you a lot of problems."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the team's addition of fullbacks to the offense):
"(That's) one of the things that we've always at least entertained the thought of, but we've been so one-back oriented that we typically would only use the fullback in goal-line and short-yardage. Most games we may have, maybe, five to seven plays in those situations. We always kind of weighed (that) out for us, just in terms of roster management, if it was (better) to have another tight end, because we do use some two tight end sets, ace formations and things of that nature. Or is it worth having a fullback? Oftentimes, because of the fact that we were so one-back oriented, we kind of steered away from having one (fullback). Sometimes we've had one that was able to give us the kind of flexibility that we needed. Other times we used someone already on the roster. Eric Foster we used and Darrell Reid we used over the years. This stage of the game where we are, we're running the ball a little bit more. We're in the I-formation a little bit more with two backs in the backfield. It makes sense for us to have a guy as opposed to taking a guy who's been, typically, a tight end and putting him in that role. We've been fortunate enough to find a couple of guys that can help us out there."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell(on Ravens running back Ray Rice):
"Any time that a guy can lead his team in rushing and lead his team in pass receiving, it's pretty special. If you think about it, last week between he and Ricky Williams, they combined for 280 yards rushing. That's ridiculous, and that's a lot of yardage. That's because of the fact that those guys are very, very good players. Ray Rice is one of those guys that have speed, he has power, he's compact and he has excellent vision as well. He's one of those guys that can also catch the ball out of the backfield, not only on screens, which he does, but also when they check it down to him he knows what to do with it when he gets it in open space. He's pretty dangerous, so he's a tough guy to handle."
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky(on the club's wide receivers):
"I've been around some pretty good ones. I had a pretty special player in Detroit in Calvin (Johnson) and in Houston in Andre (Johnson). They have a pretty good corps down there, too. These guys are as good as I've come across. They all have a unique skill set and kind of a thing that they do well. Any time you catch as many passes as Reggie (Wayne) has in his career, you're doing something right. They all three are really good receivers. It's a comfort level. You have a lot of trust in them. I guess I didn't see it until I was out there, but just the competitive level that they have while out on the field (is impressive). It kind of brings it out of you. You like playing with them because of how competitive they are, how much they want to go out and compete and win. That was kind of an eye-opening cool thing for me to see. (I) just appreciate being a part of it."
Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo(on what he has seen from the Ravens defensive line on film):
"Everybody knows that they're a very good defense, and their strength is up front (with) their front seven. You've got (Terrell) Suggs who I'll be going against, and he's a very good player. (Haloti) Ngata is obviously one of the best in the league in the inside. They're just a very solid team all the way around, which is why we're going to have to be technically sound to get the job done this week."
Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh(on the Ravens taking the Colts lightly because of the team's struggles this season):
"I don't believe that for one second that would happen. I think it's real easy to write about, and it cracks me up because the media will be the first ones to downplay it and take a mocking position about things. Then when a team rises up and wins, they're the first ones to start cutting people in half with machine gun fire for taking a team lightly. All the while ignoring the fact that (the media played up the team's record), just what Coach (Bill) Belichick was talking about. We don't have to sit up there and say how much we respect the Colts. When was the last time we beat the Colts? When was the last time that we played really well against them? So we know what kind of team they are, we know every one of their players, we know how good they are, we understand how well coached they are and we understand what they're going to bring into this stadium. It's an NFL football game against what we consider to be an excellent opponent. Their record doesn't mean anything to us."
Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh(on Ray Rice's season):
"He's the same guy he's always been. I think he continues to get better in all parts of the game. He's probably been able to be even more of a leader this year than other years, because of some of the veterans that aren't here that were here in the past. I think he's really seized that opportunity very well."
Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh(on whether the team has improved its defensive scheme):
"Well, we hope so. The idea is to continue to improve, but it just depends. Every week is so much different. Obviously, the pressure was hitting on all cylinders that game (against the San Francisco 49ers), but we didn't do quite as much (blitzing) the last game. We've had games where we haven't gotten any pressure, so it's always week-to-week. But the idea is to try to continue to improve. We've had some young players that have stepped up, and that's been a plus."
Baltimore running back Ray Rice(on his performance last week against the Cleveland Browns):
"It was a coming-out party for us. My offensive line did a great job of getting me to the second level. I always tell them, 'Just get me to the second level.' As a running back that's all you can ask from those guys and (from) the receivers blocking down the field. Obviously, us running backs get the glory when we're getting all of the yards, but everybody knows that in the run game it's a total team effort."
Baltimore running back Ray Rice(on being the leading receiver and leading rusher for the Ravens):
"I think it just happened by surprise. We know that we've got capable and great receivers on this team. When you find yourself in (a difficult) situation, I always try to be able to get Joe Flacco out of a situation. Him being able to find me, whether it's a check-down, a route or a broken play, I just try to be a quarterback's outlet. If he doesn't have to take a sack, then I'll be there for him."