Wild Card Weekend: Indianapolis Colts At Baltimore Ravens
- QuarterbackThe play of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has been one of the primary reasons the Colts are in the playoffs a year after they had the worst record in football. Luck does not have the stellar passing numbers of rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, but he makes big plays at key moments that win games. Luck has superior arm strength, a quick release and the guts to make the big throw at any point.Joe Flacco has all the tools to be a great quarterback, but he had an ordinary regular season and may have taken a step back. However, Flacco was a couple of plays away from leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl a year ago and he has a chance to make up for that this year. Flacco has the size, arm strength and velocity to hit big throws.
- OffenseThe Colts don’t have a high-caliber running attack, but they get just enough out of their ground game to keep opposing defenses honest. Vick Ballard had 78 rushing yards in the Week 17 win over the Houston Texans. Wide receivers Reggie Wayne and rookie T.Y. Hilton are difference makers who can produce big plays.The Ravens have plenty of weapons, but they are still reeling offensively after firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron late in the season and turning the offense over to former Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell. Ray Rice is the second-best running back in the league behind Adrian Peterson. Anquan Boldin will make the tough catch while Torrey Smith can make plays on the deep ball.
- DefenseThe Colts have struggled throughout the season at stopping opponents on the ground and that could be disastrous against Rice. While the Colts are not the most talented defense, they do hustle and hit hard. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is a big hitter who led the Colts in tackles by a wide margin. Hybrid DE-OLB Robert Mathis must give them an explosive pass rush if they are going to have a chance in this game.The Ravens have come through with some good defensive games – most notably against the Giants in Week 16 – they have not been a strong defensive team. They rank 20th overall and they are a shocking 23rd against the run. Strong safety Bernard Pollard has emerged as the league’s leading tackler, but look out for free safety Ed Reed in this playoff game.
- Special TeamsThe Colts have been able to make big plays on special teams. Deji Karim had a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. the Texans, while Hilton has broken a punt return for a score. Veteran placekicker Adam Vinatieri may not have the leg strength he did in his prime, but he has the ability to make game-winning kicks.The Ravens have been solid in their punt and kickoff coverage all year. Jacoby Jones is an explosive returner who has three scores (two kickoff, one punt) this season. Justin Tucker has given the Ravens consistency in their field goal kicking, making 30-of-33 attempts this season.
The Colts may have a chance to pull off the upset over the experienced Ravens. No team has more of an emotional edge than Indianapolis. The Colts received a huge lift from the return of head coach Chuck Pagano from his battle with leukemia. The Ravens are struggling to find their consistency and they could give the Colts life if they allow them to hang around in the second half.