You won’t find a more lopsided matchup on paper than winless Indianapolis coming to Baltimore to take on the 9-3 Ravens.
While trying to remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers — against whom Baltimore owns the tiebreaker — in the AFC North, the subplots are simple for the Ravens. They haven’t beaten Indianapolis in over a decade (Dec. 2, 2001), and the Ravens don’t want the embarrassment of being the first team to lose a game to the Colts like they did in 2007 when they suffered an overtime defeat to the 0-13 Dolphins.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis desperately wants to avoid the stigma of a winless season, especially considering they own a two-game lead in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Colts rank 29th in total offense and 28th in total defense, and the peripheral stats are just as poor.
Yes, it’s the NFL and stranger things have happened — I guess, anyway — but it’s just difficult envisioning any plausible scenario in which the Ravens lose this one. Baltimore has won eight straight games at home and would set a franchise record with a win on Sunday after collecting two different eight-game home winning streaks in the 16-year history of the franchise.
Here’s what to expect when Indianapolis comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday…
1. Indianapolis quarterback Dan Orlovsky will throw two touchdowns, one of them going to the Ravens defense. After throwing for 353 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Colts’ loss in New England last Sunday, Orlovsky already looks like a more viable option than previous starter Curtis Painter. However, there’s a reason why Orlovsky entered the season having not played in a game since 2008, and the New England pass defense is the worst in football. Indianapolis still has plenty of weapons to which the Ravens need to pay close attention, including receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon as well as tight end Dallas Clark, who practiced all week after missing a month with a leg injury. The Colts won’t be able to run, meaning the ball will be in Orlovsky’s hands to make plays in the passing game. He’ll throw a touchdown pass, but the journeyman will be picked off by the Baltimore defense — safety Ed Reed is still looking for a defensive score in 2011 — for a touchdown going the other way.
2. Ray Rice will run for 100 yards, and backup Ricky Williams will collect 50 on the ground against the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense. You won’t see the Ravens run anywhere in the vicinity of 55 times this week, but Indianapolis has been unable to slow anyone’s running game in 2011. With the Colts’ deficiencies on offense, you wouldn’t expect the Ravens to throw an inordinate number of passes to risk turning the ball over to Indianapolis on a short field. Baltimore will build an early lead before unleashing Rice and Williams in the ground attack, collecting yards and chewing out the clock in the process. The Ravens offensive line continues to perform at a higher level since the return of Ben Grubbs last month, and the run blocking will impress again on Sunday.
3. Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will combine for two sacks and a forced fumble of Joe Flacco. As I wrote earlier in the week, the Indianapolis defense has been the biggest culprit in the Ravens’ struggles against the Colts over the last five or six seasons. Baltimore has not even managed a touchdown in its three losses to the Colts in the John Harbaugh era, and the pass-rushing duo of Freeney and Mathis can still provide fits despite their defense’s struggles this season. With Flacco leading the NFL with 11 fumbles (losing six) this season, the two defensive ends will be keying even more on knocking the ball loose from Flacco and giving their offense a spark. The Ravens offensive line has done an effective job protecting Flacco in recent weeks, but Indianapolis’ duo will provide the biggest test it’s seen since the Pittsburgh game last month.