Offensive Game Plan
1.) Use of the draw or delay play: Although the Indianapolis defense has been pushed over all season long, the pass rush has been stealth. The best pass-rushing duo in the NFL is Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The two defensive ends have combined for 23.5 sacks this season. Out of the two, Mathis is more of a speed rusher. He gets up the field in a hurry, and usually has a quicker release off the ball than the tackle he is going up against. Freeney has the speed that Mathis possesses, but his game is better refined. At close to 270 pounds, Freeney is also stronger than he appears, and uses that power to generate an effective bull rush.
The best way to disrupt the rhythm of Freeney and Mathis is to allow them to rush past the tackles, then run a play through the gaps they occupied. On third-and-long situations especially, Mathis and Freeney will be primed to rush after Kyle Boller. The Ravens should use the draw play with Jamal Lewis or Chester Taylor to catch the ends off guard, and test their patience. Another way to test the honor of Freeney and Mathis, the Ravens can utilize misdirection running plays.
2.) 40 is the magic number: Perhaps the best way to slow down Peyton Manning is to hog the ball on offense. The Ravens have done a better job of controlling the clock on offense over the last few weeks, because the running game is back into the same type of flow that it was a year ago.
For the Ravens to win on Sunday night, getting Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor a lot of attempts is key. The two backs should combine to carry the ball 35-to-40 times on Sunday, even if the Ravens aren't statistically efficient running the football. Eventually, if the Ravens can keep pounding the undersized front of Indianapolis that front seven should wear down and big gains can be sprung by the fourth quarter.
However, the key is being able to log a high number of attempts on the ground, because if the offense is caught in a shootout, they will not be able to keep up with the Colts' offense.
3.) Defeating the Cover Two scheme: When Tony Dungy took over as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, he installed the same cover two defense that he had in Tampa Bay, minus the hall-of-fame players. The emphasis of this scheme is keeping the safeties in deep coverage. Each safety is responsible for only covering his half of the field. Meanwhile, the corner backs will stay in zone coverage up front, the linebackers will drop deeper into coverage, and the front four is counted on to generate a pass rush.
Going up against this scheme is tough, because it generally doesn't give up big plays, and forces an offense to methodically move up and down the field.
The Ravens best chance to move the ball through the air is to use the play action passing game. With Boller's attempts cut down to anywhere between 18-to-25 passes, using play action to get the safeties moving out of their shells will aid Boller's efficiency.
Defensive Game Plan
1.) Stick with your assignments: The number one reason that Peyton Manning is able to be successful as a passer is he forces defensive players out of their assigned spots. In other words, Manning is adept at using a play fake, the pump fake, or a stare away (looking to one side, then passing to get a safety moving out of position) to get defenders moving to the wrong spots on the field.
Conversely, when the Ravens have had trouble this season is when the defensive starters have gotten out of position. The safeties were baited into jumping underneath routes, the linebackers were sucked up the field defending a run fake or the corners got caught looking into the backfield instead of at the receivers they were covering.
Taking chances is not in the cards against Manning, because he will burn a defense that makes a mistake. Against the future hall-of-fame quarterback, it will be difficult to stay true, but all 11 starters and the backups will need to stick with their alignments and assignments on every play.
2.) Controlled chaos: The Ravens showed a different look on defense a week ago to confuse young Eli Manning. Instead of declaring its formation before Manning snapped the ball, the back seven defenders were moving all of over the place, not lining up in a set position at any point. Being able to run such a scatter shot scheme is one of the advantages that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has when running his 3-4 defense. The defense can morph into and out any formation, defenders can come at the quarterback from any direction, and it is hard too pinpoint who is actually blitzing as opposed to dropping into coverage right after the ball is snapped.
The New England Patriots have successfully used a similar defensive game plan in their match-ups against big brother Peyton. If Manning has a hard time identifying how the defense is aligned because players are not set in certain positions, then he will have a tougher time using an audible, or a check play. He may be forced to run the play that was called in the huddle.
Another key for the Ravens is when they do blitz, they need to bring just five or six players, allowing them to keep at least five players in coverage on every play. Using this form of a controlled blitz is actually strength of the Ravens, as the unit has produced a good rush all season long without needing to bring all of its defenders.
The Houston Texans had success blitzing off of Manning's blind side whenever he was in the process of executing a run fake. This is certainly an attack that the Ravens can use as well.
3.) Man coverage: Getting in Manning's face is obviously the best way to disrupt his throwing motion. However, if his receivers are allowed to run their routes freely, he will be able to get rid of the ball on time.
The Ravens must use press coverage at the line of scrimmage to slow down the release of the Colts receivers off the snap of the ball. Even if the corners miss their jam, leading to a receiver running free down the field, Nolan has to take a chance and allow his corners to play aggressively, especially because corners Gary Baxter and Chris McAlister are at their best when they are allowed to be physical.
4.) Staying in Nickel and Dime coverage consistently: One of the chances that the Ravens will have to take is to defend the Colts with more of a pass scheme than a run scheme. Specifically, instead of lining up in a base defense, the Ravens should use more Nickel and Dime fronts, which means that five or six defensive backs will be on the field at all times.
Again, the Ravens have enough versatile defenders to get away with using one less linebacker. One formation that the Ravens can tinker with is moving both Adalius Thomas and Terell Suggs on the line, which would create a five-man front. Or the Ravens can use a 4-2-5 look, which is essentially the same formation, but would allow Adalius Thomas to stay in coverage, where he may be needed.
Of course, using a lighter defensive package means that the Ravens will be exposed against Edgerrin James and the Colts underrated rushing attack. James is talented enough to gain 200 yards against any defense, including Baltimore's. However, against the Colts, a defense has to pick its poison, and the Ravens will have to force James to beat them as opposed to Manning.
5.) No big plays: What really separates the Colts offense from any other is its ability to consistently convert plays over 20 yards. Clearly, the Ravens cannot give up these home run plays, especially through the air. The Ravens have done a nice job of forcing teams to drive the field all season, so they may be able to do the same against Indy's quick strike offense. If the Ravens cannot do accomplish this goal, they will be in trouble.
One-on-one Match-up to watch: Jonathan Ogden versus Dwight Freeney:
As was mentioned before, Dwight Freeney is among the game's elite pass rushers. He brings an eye-popping combination of strength, speed and moves to the table.
Freeney's most potent move is the spin. He starts rushing to the far right of an offensive tackle, gets him to overextend himself, than spins back inside to sack the quarterback. However, Jonathan Ogden is not too shabby himself. Ogden always plays with great technique, balance and control. Simply put: If Ogden gets his hands on a defender, he will be blocked. It will be important for Ogden to stalemate Freeney, because he is protecting Kyle Boller's blindside.
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