INDIANAPOLIS – As those outside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center try to gauge just how good this 2014 Colts team is, Chuck Pagano has the blinders on his 2-2 squad.
Pagano understands the type of challenge not only coming Sunday afternoon, but through the entire month of October.
Two teams with a ton of history, and respect for each other, will meet at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend and Pagano has his players' attention.
"This is why we do what we do, for opportunities like this," Pagano says of the 3-1 Ravens coming to Indianapolis.
"They've got playmakers all over the place and it's going to be a great challenge."
Many of the iconic faces on past Ravens defenses have moved on but this "tough, hard-nosed" group, as described by Pagano, still ranks among the league's elite.
The Ravens have allowed just five touchdowns after four weeks and their 15 points per game given up places the defense second in the NFL.
It will be another challenge for a quarterback in Andrew Luck who has found an NFL-best seven different receivers at least 10 times in 2014.
"He's doing a great job of taking what the defense is giving him and not getting greedy, so to speak, and spreading the ball around," Pagano says of No. 12.
"They've got to make a decision defensively who they want to identify like we do as game-wreckers and take those guys away, but it's going to open it up obviously for somebody else either in the run game or the pass game."
The defensive mantra the Ravens have earned over the past 15 years still applies in 2014 but they also possess one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL.
A large part of the Ravens having 21 plays of at least 20 yards this year comes from 35-year old receiver Steve Smith Sr.
Colts cornerback Darius Butler played with Smith in 2011 with the Panthers and he's seen first hand how elusive the five-time Pro Bowler can be.
"I know what kind of a player he is, what kind of attitude he brings to a locker room, to a team," Butler says. "It'll be a great matchup for us on the backend and us as a whole against the Ravens."
On Sunday, Lucas Oil Stadium will host the No. 2 (Ravens) and 3 (Colts) point differential teams in the NFL with both teams outscoring their opponents by 40 points in 2014.
The connections on the two teams are deep with the biggest similarity being two perennial playoff teams looking to take the next step on Sunday in the goal of playing into January.
"The only reason we coach and play is for opportunities," Pagano says.
"We've got another great opportunity and we've got another great challenge. We've got a great organization and a great football team that is extremely well-coached in all three phases."
INTERESTING MATCHUPS Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith versus the Colts secondary:Smith has 429 receiving yards after four weeks, which is the most in NFL history for a receiver at least 35 years. The Colts defensive backs, and in particular Vontae Davis, have been pretty impressive early on in 2014 but Smith will definitely challenge the backend.Colts offensive line versus the Ravens defense: Andrew Luck has been sacked just twice in his last 128 pass attempts but he will be passing behind a new-look offensive line this week. The Ravens have a pair of veteran edge rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, with Haloti Nagta eating up space in the middle.Quick Facts
-The Colts are the only team in the NFL with seven players that have 10-or-more catches.
-Kicker Adam Vinatieri is tied for the league lead with 40 points scored.
-Cory Redding, Arthur Jones, A.Q. Shipley and Joe Reitz are all former Ravens.
-The Ravens are second in the league in points differential (plus 43 points) and the Colts are third in the league (41 points).
-The Ravens have 21 plays of at least 20 yards, which ranks second the NFL.
-The Ravens haven't allowed a sack in three straight games.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the test for the Colts offensive line this weekend):
-"Yeah, they've got a bunch of game-wreckers over there and we've got to make sure that we have a plan to take care of those guys. Haloti (Ngata), (Brandon) Williams, those guys are a load inside. (Chris) Canty and certainly T-Sizzle (Terrell Suggs) on one side. Courtney Upshaw starts in their base stuff, he'll play a little bit of sub, but they'll bring in Elvis (Dumervil) on third down and he's still a beast, got 3.5 sacks and had 1.5 last week, so he's a nightmare off the edge. So we've got to have a plan for those guys."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on putting the blinders on when facing his former team in the Ravens):
-"Yeah, you have to. You really have to. Obviously there's always going to be memories of all the places, all the stops along the way, if you will. Obviously we have great, fond memories of our four-year stint there. Great organization, great people. Coach (John) Harbaugh was very good to me, and great players, all those things. But you put that on the back burner and it's about preparing to win a football game. We've got a great football team and a great organization coming in here Sunday and we're going to have our hands full."Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on the Ravens adding wide receiver Steve Smith to the fold):
-"Well the Ravens have always been a dangerous team to play defensive and offensive-wise, but when you add an element of Steve Smith in a game, that ups it a little bit more because of the kind of talent he brings to that squad, his toughness and how he plays the game at the wide receiver position. It's like a middle linebacker playing the wide receiver position. It's going to be a good challenge for our DBs and we're looking forward to it."
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh(on if he sees anything different from Andrew Luck):
-"He looked just as good as he's always looked to me. Is he better than he was? I don't know. He was pretty great the last time we played them too. I pretty much saw him last year, you know we didn't play them and he pretty much got that offense going. The year before that when we played them in the playoffs, it was Andrew Luck doing most of the heavy lifting. He's just a guy you build a whole team around. They've done that very, very effectively. I just think the world of him as a player, as a person. I know him a little bit because of the relationship with Jim (Harbaugh) in college at Stanford. Man, he's just a great player and a great person."
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh(on if he's been impressed by the Colts cornerbacks and specifically Vontae Davis):
-"Yeah, I would agree with that. He's playing very well. You can tell, he's a guy we've studied over the years coming out in the draft, playing down in Miami and now in Indianapolis, one of the most talented guys in football. I can see where Chuck (Pagano) and the defensive coaches there have had a really good impact on him because he's playing technique, because he's playing good, sound football. He's got his eyes in the right place and it's reflected in how he's playing."Ravens Wide Receiver Steve Smith(on if he thinks Reggie Wayne is the Comeback Player of the Year so far):
-"Of course. I think what he went through, and as they say when you get older and you get injuries, I think, it requires a lot more energy, a lot more effort mentally as well as physically. I think there's a lot of doubt, me myself included. You doubt yourself. The newspapers that would say something, you read those more intently because you have that self-doubt a little bit, because you're sitting there going through treatment and rehab and trying to get flexion in your knee and all that stuff. You can't take away what that man has done to get back on the field. Those are the things that people don't see. Those are the hours and hours of training and grinding that nobody sees that is unappreciated at times."