1. Can Colts' offense build on its solid foundation?
The Colts' offense has built a strong foundation of ball security through four games with Carson Wentz at quarterback. Wentz has had zero turnover-worthy plays, per Pro Football Focus, and the Colts enter Week 5 with a plus-four turnover differential (the Ravens are minus-one).
But the next step for the Colts' offense will be to build more explosive plays on that foundation. The Colts have 10 passing plays of 20 or more yards, tied for the fifth-lowest in the NFL; the Baltimore Ravens are tied for 21st with 15 passing plays of 20 yards allowed.
"He's playing the position in a good manner. Now it's just a question of continuing to make the plays we know he's capable of of making, plays that are big plays in games," head coach Frank Reich said. "Now you gotta pick the pace up on that without giving back too much on the other side. Because it's always a risk/reward, you take chances making plays and it's always a chance that you're putting things at risk.
"So it's always that fine balance. I think Carson is at a spot right now in his career, in this specific season where I think he has the right mindset, he's got a very mature mindset on it. He understands what his role is and what he has to do for us to play winning football on offense."
The push-pull of aggression and discipline, as Wentz described it, is a difficult balance to strike. But for a quarterback who led the NFL in "turnover-worthy" plays in 2020, the foundation of ball security is an important one.
Because that foundation also includes taking care of the ball in the pocket. Wentz fumbled 58 times in 68 games with the Eagles, while he's only fumbled once in four games with the Colts (and that came on a botched snap on fourth-and-one in Week 1). That's an important part of this because trying to take downfield shots requires a quarterback to hang on to the ball for a little bit longer in the pocket.
"(Carson's) been very judicious, very judicious not only throwing the ball, but the other big emphasis from coming off of last year was ball security in the pocket," Reich said. "We know every week that's a challenge and this team that we're playing this week, they're good. This team we're playing this week is really good at getting the ball out."
An example of what Reich mentioned: While Baltimore's defense only has one fumble recovery this year, they were third in the NFL with 12 takeaways on fumbles in 2020.
2. Baltimore will bring the blitz.
Entering Week 5, only the Kansas City Chiefs played a higher percentage of their defensive coverage snaps in cover-0 (straight man-to-man with no safety help and several blitzing defenders) than the Ravens (13 percent), per Pro Football Focus. It's no surprise the Ravens are fifth in blitz rate this season, again per PFF – about one-third of Baltimore's defensive snaps against passing plays have been blitzes.
So the Colts will have to be ready for that pressure, whether it's with an all-out cover-0 blitz or simulated pressure with four rushers and good, disguised zone coverage on the back end.
"The thing about them is they'll do both at any point and time," Wentz said. "They'll make it look like they're playing two-deep coverage and next thing you know it's Cover-0 and then vice versa. You just have to be on it. It takes maybe a little extra prep and film studying and all that and just having an answer for if they do bluff it here, what's my go to? If they do bring it, I have to make sure I have a hot or a quick answer. Just takes a little extra preparation and extra communication."
3. A funky aspect to the Ravens' offense.
For as efficient as Baltimore's offense is, it's had some rather odd struggles on third down.
The Ravens enter Week 5 27th in the NFL with a third down conversion rate of just 34 percent. They've ran 52 plays on third down — about a league-average total — yet only the Chicago Bears have a lower average yards per play than the Ravens on third down (3.3 yards/play). The Ravens are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the highest turnover rate on third down (7.7 percent) and only the Titans and Jets have allowed more sacks on third down than Baltimore.
But this maybe is the most surprising stat in here: When the Ravens are in third down with three or fewer yards to go, they're converting just 40 percent of those opportunities. That's not what you'd expect from an offense quarterbacked by the dynamic Lamar Jackson.
Still, the key for the Colts here looks to be to force the Ravens into third and long plays. Baltimore enters Week 5 with more sacks (seven) and turnovers (four) than conversions (two) on 23 tries of third and seven or more.
That's easier said than done, of course, given the Ravens also entered Week 5 leading the NFL in yards per play on first and second down (6.9).
One word of caution here, though, is this is a small sample size and the Ravens' offense is otherwise a solid group with good players and good coaching. But if these numbers hold, the Colts' defense would do well to force the Ravens' offense into playing on third down quite a bit.
4. O-line depth will be tested.
The Colts will be without left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Braden Smith for the second consecutive game, while Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley is out and Alejandro Villanueva — who started the season at right tackle and moved to left tackle when Stanley was injured — is questionable.
Chris Reed will again start at left guard in place of Nelson. And with Smith out, the Colts have rotated Julién Davenport and Matt Pryor at right tackle.
Baltimore turned to veteran Andre Smith after Villanueva was injured in Week 4 with reserve Patrick Mekari in at right tackle. If Villanueva isn't able to play – and he hasn't missed a game in his seven-year career — it'll further stretch the Ravens' O-line depth. Villanueva's status will be an important note when inactives are announced 90 minutes prior to kickoff.
5. There's always something special about Monday Night Football.
The Colts are 15-14 on Monday Night Football since moving to Indianapolis; Week 5 is the team's first appearance on Monday Night Football since Week 15 of the 2019 season (a 34-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome). Meanwhile, this'll be the second time the Ravens will have been on Monday Night Football this season – Baltimore lost an overtime thriller to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1.
"I love it. I love the game," Wentz said. "The anticipation, waiting for it, waiting, all that – I think sometimes it can drag out a little bit but playing on a national stage, I think everybody gets excited for it."
There are challenges that come with the game – all the downtime during the morning and afternoon (running back Nyheim Hines said he's going to binge "Power" on Netflix), the truncated schedule the week after the game – but overall, it's still a special occasion that players and coaches enjoy.
"I like it. I mean, it's primetime," Reich said. "For me, it's old school. Monday Night Football now, that's big time for us – for our generation, Chap (longtime Colts scribe Mike Chappell) (laughing). You're the only one I'm going to single out on that (laughing).
"Yeah, it's primetime, right? Yes, there's scheduling issues. The thing that's unique about Monday as opposed to Thursday, when you're playing on Thursday the competitive advantage hits both teams the same. When you play on a Monday, the follow-up (is) you're usually playing somebody who didn't play on Monday night. So how you take care of yourself during the week and take care of your team, it's important and the players have to have the right mindset to be able to boom – we've got to go take care of business Monday night, and then just a quick turnaround. That's always a little bit of a challenge, but it's a fun challenge."