Ravens preparing for chess match with Manning

BALTIMORE – Peyton Manning will call his offense at the line of scrimmage Sunday night, pointing his fingers rapidly and belting out commands as if he's directing a finely-tuned orchestra. The Indianapolis Colts' quarterback is one of the most studious, prolific quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, and the reigning Most Valuable Player is about to encounter one of the most ferocious defenses in the game.

While Manning barks out signals -- some false bait, others the actual play call for the Colts' high-octane offense -- Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis will try to adjust on the fly and impose his will.

It's a high profile battle of wits and skills waged between Manning and the Baltimore defense as the Ravens open their 10th season in a nationally televised contest at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It's chess," Lewis said. "Peyton comes to the line and he checks to a pass or a run and I come to the line and I check from a blitz to a zone. It's actually more stressful on the field because you're truly trying to figure out their next move.

"He's good at it. He's a great signal caller. What better game to start out with than Peyton Manning and the Baltimore Ravens?"

The Ravens were the only team in the regular season last year to contain Manning. Despite a 20-10 loss last December, it marked the Colts' lowest point total of the season in a game where Manning played more than one series, their lowest yardage total (316) and only the second game where he was prevented from throwing multiple touchdown passes. Manning played just one series in a meaningless season finale against the Denver Broncos.

"He is like no other quarterback," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who implored Baltimore fans all week to make noise to try to disrupt Manning's play-calling. "That's what makes him so dynamic."

Manning dominated everyone else last season except for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff loss.

He set NFL records with 49 touchdown passes and a 121.1 quarterback rating and completed 67.6 percent of his throws for 4,557 yards. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and former Ravens starter Brandon Stokley combined for 37 touchdown catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards apiece.

"Peyton throws to every guy, so everybody has to cover on every play," said safety Ed Reed, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "There isn't a play where you can say, ‘OK, maybe I can take a play off.' You can't do that because he throws the ball everywhere.

"Of course, you love the challenge. You love going out there knowing that he's getting his read off me half the time. It's exciting, but you have to go out there and play your part, do what you're supposed to do and not get caught up in him looking at you."

The Ravens generated most of their success against Manning last year by employing their dime package (six defensive backs) the majority of the time.

This year, they're looking to amplify that performance by applying more pressure. They didn't register a sack in last year's loss as Indianapolis allowed only 13 last season. Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs said he wants to "frenzy" Manning.

"They're supposed to be the most prolific offense ever put together, and we're supposed to be one of the most dangerous defenses put together," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who allowed a touchdown pass to Harrison last season. "We're going to find out Sunday night.

"Last year's game was last year's game. I'm pretty sure they're looking at film and they're going to change the way they did some things, as we are."

McAlister is likely to be matched opposite Harrison most of the time, with newcomer Samari Rolle checking Reggie Wayne and veteran nickel backs Deion Sanders and Dale Carter combining against Stokley.

Between McAlister, Rolle, Reed, Sanders and Carter, the Ravens' secondary has a combined 17 Pro Bowl selections, 134 interceptions and 20 touchdowns.

"I think the sky is the limit if we play up to our abilities," Rolle said.

Manning doesn't view the Ravens' opportunistic defense as his typical victim, striking a wary, opportunistic stance.

"The Ravens have their identity," Manning said. "They have excellent players and a number of veterans who can do a number of different things. The key is trying to be smart in your decision-making and trying to be smart with the football."

Rolle, who was with the Tennessee Titans until joining the Ravens this offseason, played Manning six times over the past three years in the AFC South. His experience could be invaluable tonight.

"You can't get caught up in the fact that you're playing Peyton Manning," Rolle said. "It's hard to do. You've got to go out there and treat him like he's any other quarterback.

"As good as they are on offense and with what we can do on defense, I think this is the perfect matchup."

NOTE: The Colts placed linebacker Rocky Calmus (hamstring) on injured reserve Saturday and are still awaiting the results of a neurological exam on tight end Dallas Clark (concussion). Rookie cornerback Marlin Jackson (shoulder) remains doubtful. Colts coach Tony Dungy said that the first-round draft pick has improved and there's a slight chance he could play.

 


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