1.) Running the ball on third-down: When the Colts' defense needed to get off the field on third-down, it blew many opportunities to accomplish this task. Last season, Indianapolis ranked 26th in the NFL in third-down conversion situations; opponents were able to convert a third-down attempt on the Colts nearly 42% of the time.
One would think that the Colts would have a better third-down defense, considering how solid the Colts are at producing sacks and turnovers, but while the Colts make big plays on defense, they also miss tackles, over-pursue plays and can be pushed around in short-yardage battles.
The Ravens need to take advantage of the Colts' potential over-aggressive play on defense by running the ball on third-down, both in short and long conversion situations. On third-and-short, the Ravens' bigger offensive line should be able to move the Colts' undersized defensive line backward, allowing tailback Jamal Lewis to surge forward to gain an extra yard or two needed to move the chains. On third-and-long, the Ravens can use either the draw or delay runs to expose the Colts' pass-rushers. The Colt lineman tend to fly up the field to get into the backfield, but by rushing without caution, they may leave creases open for either Chester Taylor or Jamal Lewis to slip through.
2.) Playing physical: Simply put: The Ravens must punch the Colts squarely in the mouth on offense. They need to turn their battle with the Colts defense into a street brawl.
The Colts' defense is setup to protect leads, attack the quarterback and create turnovers. It is not built to play in close, head-knocking contests.
Conversely, the Ravens are not built like the Patriots, so any comparisons to how the Super Bowl champions attacked Indianapolis needs to be thrown out of the window. The Patriots have the versatility on offense to use any type of attack they wish to use, but Baltimore has to stick to its bread and butter, which is its power rushing attack.
Every player on offense needs to hit the Colts hard. The lineman need to pound the guys they line up against, the receivers need to block with passion and be physical after the catch, and the backs need to look to run over defenders once they get past the first layer of defense.
Ultimately, if the Colts are hit enough times on defense, they may wilt in the fourth quarter.
3.) Slowing down the pass-rush: The Colts' biggest defensive strength is its pass-rush. Pro-Bowl performer Dwight Freeney heads the group, and Robert Mathis, Montae Reagor and Corey Simon (who signed with Indianapolis last week) complement him upfront. The Colts usually collapse offensive lines from the outside to the inside.
The Ravens can slow this group down by running the football consistently. Considering that the Colt corners will play off the line when defending the pass, the Ravens can also slow down the Colts pass-rush by running hitch and quick out routes on the outside.
4.) Breaking the two-deep zone shell: The Colts use two-deep zone coverage to defend the pass, which means that two safeties cover both halves of the field. Those safeties stay in deep coverage in order to provide help for either cornerback matching up against the outside receiver.
Against the Ravens, Indianapolis may move one of the safeties into the box to help support the run, as the Colts simply don't have the personnel to stuff the Ravens' rushing attack with just seven defenders. If the safety plays inside, that will allow quarterback Kyle Boller to take advantage of one-on-one coverage on the outside. The Colt cornerbacks are good zone defenders, but they are not as skilled in man coverage situations and without safety help over the top, the Ravens should have the potential to throw down the field off of play-action fakes.
1.) Defending the stretch run/ stretch run-fake: The Colts' staple running play on offense is the stretch run. The stretch is a run designed to get a running back moving sharply toward the perimeter after he receives a delayed hand-off from the quarterback. The play allows the running back to run behind the right or left edge, or to cutback through a gap depending on whether or not the backside is sealed off. The Colts execute the stretch run so well because Edgerrin James is an elite perimeter runner, and the Colt lineman are quick off the ball.
The Colts use this running play to setup its play-action passing game. Peyton Manning does a great job of selling the stretch run because his motion when handing the ball off is the same as when he fakes the hand-off to James. Additionally, James and the Colts line use the same technique when running through both plays.
The Raven defenders will need to be able to recognize when Manning sells the fake. The linebackers and the safeties must not overreact to James' movement. They must stay patient and wait to corral him, even if he is able to gain an extra yard or two as a result. If the cover players are baited into moving out of their landmarks, Manning will have a field day throwing the football.
2.) Substituting properly: Part of the problem with defending the Colts is not only dealing with their precision, but also their versatility. Like any great unit, the Colts are deep on the offensive side of the ball, so they have the ability to use different players in a number of different ways.
The only given is that James will line up as the single back in the backfield, as the Colts like to run the ball out of a one-back formation. However, whether the Colts run a two-tight end set or a three-wide set as its base offense is up in the air depending on what defensive formation the offense is matching up against.
The Ravens will need to do a good job of being in the right formation on the right down in order to avoid being exploited by Manning's hurry up offensive attack. If Manning sees that he has the offensive personnel on the field to exploit a certain type of defensive formation, he will hammer away at that mismatch before the coaches can adjust.
In all likelihood, the defense will need to use extra defensive backs or keep seven up front to stop the run in order to better defend the Colts' passing game, but it will be up to defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to figure out when to employ these tactics.
3.) Pressure from different spots: Yes, the defense that has success against Manning must pressure him. However, how exactly does a defense go about pressuring a quarterback who has perhaps the quickest release in football?
Bringing a heavy number of blitzers will not work because Manning does such a good job of changing protections, and adjusting the hot routes so he can get rid of the ball before he gets knocked down. Relying on the front four to get after Manning won't work because Baltimore does not have a dominant pass-rushing front four, like that of Carolina or Tampa Bay.
The best way to flush Manning out of the pocket, sack him or knock him down is to pressure him from different spots on the field, and in situations when he may not expect to get blitzed.
For instance, if the weakside linebacker is showing blitz before the snap, and Manning changes the blocking scheme or uses a route to defend that blitz, the Ravens could bring someone from the strongside. The Ravens could also bring a blitz when Manning is using play-action, which is a scheme the Texans used successfully a year ago. In fact, Houston used cornerback Dunta Robinson to blitz Manning off of his blind side.
Of course, the team that wrote the blue-print on how to attack Manning by using smart, controlled blitzes is the New England Patriots. The Ravens have enough versatile defenders to use some of the tactics that New England has used in the last two seasons.
4.) Dynamic formations: Not only do the Ravens have to be wise when bringing the heat against Manning and the Colts, but they must also give Manning a lot of looks so he does not key in on how to attack a particular defensive alignment. The Ravens will have to tinker around with using the 3-4, 4-3, 46 and 5-2 fronts, depending on what type of offense they face. Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas' ability to drop into coverage or line up in a three-point stance gives the coaches the ability to change their defensive scheme, depending on where either players lines up.
One-on-one Match-up to Watch: Dwight Freeney versus Jonathan Ogden:
Dev Panchwagh is a long-time member of the Ravens Insider staff. Talk to him about this article on the RavensInsider message boards where he posts under the super-secret ID 'dev21'.
Dev's Battle Plans: Colts at Ravens