Colts-Ravens Q&A: Part 1

Aaron Wilson of RavensInsider.com answers Colts' fans questions about this week's exciting season opener!

Q: I've heard that the Ravens O line struggled to protect Boller during the preseason. How much of an advantage do you see the Colts having in this area with Freeney, Mathis and now Simon lined up to pressure Boller Sunday night? What do you think the Ravens' game plan will be to slow the Colts pass rush?

A: They have a major advantage in obvious passing situations, although Jonathan Ogden is healthy and highly motivated after last year's debacle against Dwight Freeney. The lack of crowd noise away from the RCA Dome could help Ogden, but little can be done about Freeney's physical gifts (4.38 speed) and patented spin move. Robert Mathis could have a field day against Orlando Brown, a blockish, intimidating right tackle. I doubt Corey Simon has a major impact on this game in 20-30 plays, if he sees that much action. It's already obvious to me what the game plan will be: run the football often with Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. That could wear down the Colts' smallish front seven. They can't count on Kyle Boller to beat the Colts passing, not after his confidence hit a low in the preseason. Baltimore is liable to try quick timing routes to get something going. We'll see if it works.

Q: Do you think Manning will have a hard time reading the 4-6? The key to beating the Colts offense is having a different defensive alignment on nearly every play and disguising the blitzes. The Ravens have more talent on D than the Patriots, so they have to be excited about the new D.

A: The Ravens are liable to play the 46 conservatively, rationing it out. They're going to play six defensive backs with the occasional blitz. They think they can generate pressure with Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware in addition to some stunts and blitzes.

Q: What's your opinion of the affect that the 4-6 will have on the Ravens D? A new wrinkle that makes game planning harder or a significant improvement? 

A: Ray Lewis is liable to be unblocked. Tackling practice for him is usually no problem even with Edgerrin James opposing him. There should be some world-class collisions on the perimeter. 

Q: What kind of shape is Jamal Lewis in? I've got to think it's pretty hard to stay in football shape while in prison for 4 months, and I believe he's had ankle problems also. On a related note, is Chester Taylor really the answer if Lewis isn't ready to play full time yet?

A: Jamal Lewis is leaner than usual and his body fat percentage is in single digits. However, he has some issues with his right foot (bone spurs). He's not cutting as well as he used to and there is some rust. However, he's slowly regaining his explosiveness. No, he's not 100 percent. Chester Taylor is legitimate not just because he led the league in preseason rushing. He proved himself last year and that's why Baltimore retained him as a $3 million insurance policy.

Q: Can we get Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to go on a fishing trip or something, I can get that arranged.

A: Funny, I doubt they would miss this game even to watch their University of Miami Hurricanes play. They've had this football game circled on their calendar for a long time.

Q: Our young defense obviously has some question marks. What will we see different this year from Jim Fassel that we didn't see last year from Matt Cavanaugh? 

A: Fassel wanted to run more vertical routes, motion, passes to the backs, etc.. However, Boller has struggled so markedly that I anticipate a scaled-down vanilla attack that might evoke comparisons to Cavanaugh.

Q: It seems the Pats had an answer regarding protection for Brady through a quick release of the ball using lots of little dink and dunk plays for a few yards at a time (which of course added up) with very few "big plays" which take time to set up... Since Boller is being used as a "crash test dummy" so far, is this an idea they might try against us? 

A: They'll likely try short passes for a while unless Boller stares down the slant and throws a pick. He does that a lot in practice and games lately, so they might want to avoid that route. He throws the out pass with a lot of zip, though. He's played so badly last month that he has nowhere to go but upward.

Q: How long do you think Ray Lewis will be able to play at his high level on game day? When does he start declining and start showing he is losing a step? Just wondering, since they had no problem letting Ed Hartwell go.

Answer: I think Ray Lewis has declined, but it's not as noticeable as it would be with other lesser athletes. It will begin to show up in the next two years in all likelihood, but I'm not a student of human physiology and obviously don't know if he'll have a leg injury anytime soon. He's been remarkably healthy in his lower body, but his shoulders have sustained a lot of wear and tear. We'll find out soon if letting Ed Hartwell go was a mistake or a smart calculated gamble.

Q: How do the Ravens team and fans rate Boller as a QB? Are there people that were hoping for an upgrade this year? 

A: They are worried. The fan base is panicking. The front office is observing quietly. Their silence is deafening. He is at a career crossroads.

Q: Do you foresee the Ravens doing a lot of blitzing in this game to not give Manning enough time to throw, or do you think they will drop a lot of guys in coverage and mix up their coverages like the Patriots have done in recent years against us?

Answer: I think they'll blitz a healthy amount, but not an all-out blitzkrieg. Watch out for Ed Reed off the edge. They'll likely flood the zones with extra defensive backs and try to bait Peyton Manning into a mistake.

Q: Is a healthy Ogden going to try Freeney one-on-one, or is he going to get help?

A: They'll try that at times, but expect some chip blocking in a rare acknowledgement of a pass rusher's skill.
 
Q: Are they game planning for Corey Simon, or think he will play very limited minutes?

A: A little bit, they think he's going to play 20 to 30 snaps, so he's part of the Ravens' game plan.

Q: The Ravens obviously will want to run the ball to eat up clock, and keep Manning off the field. What run to pass ratio do you expect to see from their offense?

A: It won't quite be 2:1, maybe 1.5:1, say 35 runs, 28 passes.

Q: Will the Ravens play more nickel and dime formations this week because of the COLTS passing game? 

A: They'll duplicate last year's scheme to a great extent when they stayed in their dime package a lot. It's a deep secondary, so this ploy might work again.

Q: What do you see as the key match-up for the Raven's defense vs the Colts offense? You can go with individuals or groups - O line vs. D line, TEs vs. LBs, WRs vs. CBs etc...

A: Chris McAlister against Marvin Harrison is the most important matchup. If McAlister doesn't maintain his discipline and concentration, which wavers at times, he'll lose this encounter against the polished Harrison.

Q: What has the Raven's offense done to improve? If the Ravens score 21 points on a bad defense, they win last years game. Do you think they 
will fare better this year?


A: Honestly, their offense isn't much better because Boller isn't much better. Adding Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton represent major upgrades outside, but how can they take advantage with a quarterback who's so shaky?

Q: Which new or lesser known Raven's should the Colts fans know about? Have any of the rookies/UDFAs surprised you?

A: Mark Clayton hasn't surprised me, but his ability to run after the catch is an added dimension. Rod Green is a sleeper as a rush end in the sub package. Rookie safety B.J. Ward is a big hitter at 6-3, 208 pounds. New linebacker Tommy Polley had a great preseason and might be primed for some big plays. He's looking to shed the soft label he earned in St. Louis the last couple of years.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.


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