Nolan preparing for chess match against Colts

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is preparing earnestly for a series of mind-bending chess matches with the Indianapolis Colts. <br><br> When it comes to strategy and personnel, few can contend with the Colts' high-octane offense headlined by quarterback Peyton Manning and an armada of skill talent that extends far beyond receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James.

The Colts (10-3) frequently use a no-huddle offense, leading the NFL in scoring with 35 points per game, total offense and passing yards. Manning is atop the league with a 126.3 quarterback rating.

And with 46 touchdown passes, Manning is three touchdowns shy of breaking Dan Marino's single-season touchdown record established in 1984.

Manning hustles to the line of scrimmage to study defensive alignments, and has full authority to audible to whatever he prefers. It usually works. He has thrown just nine interceptions heading into Sunday night's game against the Ravens (8-5) at the RCA Dome.

"Manning looks everything over and puts them in a lot of good situations," Nolan said. "He's very good at analyzing the defense. He's a natural. They've got a lot of weapons, but he's the catalyst.

"He changes the play a lot and he's not changing just to change. He's trying to see what you're playing. What he calls is predicated on what he sees."

Harrison (70 catches, 896 yards, 13 touchdowns), Reggie Wayne (63 catches, 971 yards, 11 touchdowns) and former Ravens starter Brandon Stokley (58 catches, 936 yards, nine touchdowns) present perplexing choices in pass coverage. The Ravens, at least, will have nickel back Deion Sanders healthy from a foot injury that he returned from last week after missing four games.

"Brandon's an excellent player, I don't know that anybody runs routes as good as him," said Nolan, who coached Stokley in 2001 when he joined Baltimore's staff as receivers coach.

"When it came time to make a decision on whether he would stay or leave, a lot of people were concerned about whether he would be healthy. He's stayed healthy and he's playing great. I'm happy for him."

For the Ravens' aggressive, sixth-ranked defense, it's a balancing act between needing to create pressure on Manning against his ability to defeat blitzes by isolating on where the defense is vulnerable. Plus, Manning is aided by crafty offensive coordinator Tom Moore, a veteran coach in his 27th NFL season after breaking into the league in 1977 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"You try to disguise the things you do and execute your defense," Nolan said. "The philosophy some people have tried is to sit in what they do and try to play well enough to beat them.

"That doesn't work particularly well because Manning is very good at what he does. When someone is hot, they're hot. You have to give him some different looks because he's seen everything and so has Tom Moore, who I have a lot of respect for."

Nolan's ace is Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who leads the league with eight interceptions.

There's also the prospect of facing James, the leading rusher in the NFL with 1,395 yards.

Indianapolis is actually fairly well-balanced, ranking 11th in the NFL in rushing with 126.5 yards per contest. They average 422.7 yards of total offense.

"You never want to get so concerned about the pass that you forget about the run because he can hurt you," Nolan said.
Although the pass-interference rules have become a renewed point of emphasis for the league, the Ravens are still bound to try to use physical press coverage to jam receivers and impede routes.

Otherwise, a football game could morph into a track meet.

"You don't want to play soft, you want to beat them up to get the upper hand," Nolan said. "That's what defense is all about. You have to change the offense's mind-set."

NOTES: Along with senior consultant Jim Fassel, Nolan has been mentioned as a candidate for several head-coaching vacancies. Nolan said he hasn't talked with Fassel about the possibility that they'll be competing for some of the same jobs.

"Hopefully, something comes about and I'll get an opportunity to talk to some people," said Nolan, who hired agent Bob Lamonte to represent him for the hiring season. "I haven't had any conversations, but I have had some conversations about this with Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick and Steve Bisciotti. I'm always preparing for different things if it occurs."

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown, whose mother passed away the night before the season-opener, was voted as the Ed Block Courage Award winner by his teammates.

Brown. returned last season from a three-year hiatus caused by a bizarre eye injury after a penalty-flag struck him in 1999. He spent the majority of training camp commuting to the hospital to visit his mother in her final days.

"It's an honor, but I feel bad because I have to accept it because it's my mother," Brown said. "It was so hard for me to play this year with that on my mind." 

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

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