Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. How big a factor will home-field advantage be today. As the Ravens (13-3) host the Colts (13-4) today in an AFC divisional playoff game, they'll have ample support from a heavily partisan home crowd intent on seeing their team advance to the AFC title game and exact a touch of revenge for the Colts leaving town nearly a quarter-century ago in those infamous Mayflower vans.

While the Ravens have gone 7-1 at home this season, Indianapolis has lost its past four road games. However, it's not as if the Colts are completely hapless away from the RCA Dome. They did defeat the New York Giants, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on the road. The noise from a feisty crowd should challenge the Colts' ability to change things on the fly.
2. Was the bye long enough to help Jonathan Ogden? The Ravens are relatively healthy with the exception of their All-Pro offensive tackle, who's hobbled with a hyperextended toe. Ogden needs to be able to move his feet well enough to drive his pads and hands into ultra-fast Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. If he's too immobile because of his left big toe, then Adam Terry would replace him. Terry didn't allow a sack with Ogden out for the final two regular-season games, blocking Joey Porter and Aaron Schobel. Freeney is a different case altogether, though.
3. Can the Ravens rattle Peyton Manning? The Colts' quarterback has a tendency to break down against aggressive, opportunistic defenses. Manning will have to be patient and not force throws against a defense that led the NFL with 28 interceptions. Baltimore will try to get him out of his rhythm with selective blitz pressure, disguised coverage schemes and waiting until the last possible moment to set its defensive alignment to try to counteract Manning's usually well-deduced audibles.
4. Will Steve McNair take a few risks? The passing game has grown very conservative lately, and will need to take a few vertical shots when it's appropriate against the Colts' sound pass defense. Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton have the ability to create separation against fast defensive backs.
5. Will Jamal Lewis succeed where Larry Johnson failed? The Ravens get very few big plays from their running game, but Lewis has the ability to wear down a defense. Since the Colts' defensive ends play the pass first and get upfield too quickly, large running lanes tend to open up behind them on the NFL's last-ranked run defense. The Colts tackled much better last week and showed more aggression with safety Bob Sanders in the lineup, limiting Johnson to just 32 yards on 13 carries. Something will have to give.
WHO HAS THE EDGE? OFFENSE

Total (17) Rushing (25) Passing (11)
Quarterback
Steve McNair has completed 68.1 percent of his career passes against Indianapolis, averaging 200.7 yards per contest with six touchdowns and two interceptions. This is the kind of game he traditionally thrives in, and the primary reason why the Ravens traded for him.
Running backs
Jamal Lewis has a major size and strength advantage over the Colts' speedy linebackers, and will need to be a big tackle-breaking presence between the tackles to wear down a smallish front seven.
Receivers
Against the Colts' conservative Cover 2 scheme, it's hard to get deep, but that's not really the Ravens' forte except for rookie Demetrius Williams. Todd Heap, Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason are as good on the short to intermediate stuff as practically any receiving trio in the league.
Offensive line
Jonathan Ogden faces a severe test today of his pain threshold because of a hyperextended toe, and will find out during pregame drills if he feels capable of counteracting the uncanny speed of Dwight Freeney. He's likely to gut it out. Tony Pashos has a tough assignment on the other side against defensive end Robert Mathis.
DEFENSE
Total (1) Rushing (2) Passing (6)
Defensive line
The Colts have allowed only 15 sacks this year, so Trevor Pryce, Terrell Suggs and Kelly Gregg will need to collapse the pocket to get in Peyton Manning's face. In particular, Pryce is hard to single-block and will likely draw extra attention.
Linebackers
Ray Lewis remains the emotional leader of the Ravens' defense even if he is no longer as dominant a player. Adalius Thomas will be a key figure in trying to defend tight end Dallas Clark. Bart Scott predicted a painful day for Joseph Addai, and will try to back those words up today.
Secondary
Samari Rolle is on the spot against wideout Reggie Wayne with Chris McAlister drawing the difficult assignment of Marvin Harrison. Safety Ed Reed will need to be cognizant of Rolle's vulnerability and help him over the top. Dawan Landry will be needed more in pass coverage than usual.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Matt Stover was the most accurate kicker in the league this season, converting 28 of 30 field goals. Rookie punter Sam Koch is averaging 43 yards per punt with 30 pinned inside the 20-yard line. Rookie return specialist Cory Ross hasn't impacted the game since B.J. Sams' season-ending injury, averaging 2.8 yards per punt return and 21.6 per kickoff return.
OFFENSE
Total (3) Rushing (18) Passing (2)
Quarterback
Peyton Manning and the Colts have lost their last four road games, and his playoff record is under heavy scrutiny. Even with 4,397 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season, Manning still has questions to answer about his tendency to disappear in big games.
Running backs
Rookie Joseph Addai has emerged as nice secondary threat in a pass-first offense with 122 rushing yards in Kansas City last week. He combined with veteran Dominic Rhodes for 1,722 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season.
Receivers
Marvin Harrison is the consummate receiver, running every route with purpose and precision. Reggie Wayne is developing into just as dangerous a downfield threat. Together, they combined for 181 catches, 2,676 yards and 21 touchdown catches. Tight end Dallas Clark is hard to contend with, and is coming off a nine-catch game. Ben Utecht is underrated.
Offensive line
Left tackle Tarik Glenn and center Jeff Saturday headline a cohesive, intelligent unit that prides itself on protecting Manning and clearing pathways for a solid running game. Communication and agility are the hallmarks of five blockers who aren't overwhelming in terms of size and brute strength.
DEFENSE
Total (21) Rushing (32) Passing (2)
Defensive line
Dwight Freeney is a physical marvel, bench pressing 500 pounds and covering 40 yards in 4.4 speed. Anthony "Booger" McFarland's return has given the run defense a boost. Raheem Brock gives a great effort. Robert Mathis is extremely fast and undersized for end at 245 pounds.
Linebackers
Cato June is the best all-around performer, getting the job done with anticipation, speed and grit. Gary Brackett is always around the football. Former first-round bust Rob Morris was forced to step in when strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner washed out.
Secondary
Bob Sanders is called "The Eraser," and the hard-hitting safety has energized the Colts' run defense. Mike Doss hasn't lived up to expectations, nor has Marlin Jackson. Nick Harper is a top-notch cover guy, but Jason David can be picked on.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Adam Vinatieri remains one of the NFL's best clutch kickers and converted 25 of 28 field goal attempts this year. Punter Hunter Smith is a steady performer, averaging 44.4 yards. Return specialist Terrence Wilkins is averaging 9.2 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards on kickoffs.
EDGES: Quarterback: Indianapolis; Running back: Indianapolis; Receivers: Indianapolis; Offensive line: Even; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Indianapolis.
Ravens Confidential
Three downs with ...
Terrell Suggs
Ravens outside linebacker
1. On pressuring Peyton Manning: "Definitely, you don't want Peyton Manning getting comfortable in the pocket. He's definitely one of the best quarterbacks in the league. So, you've got to have pressure. You don't want him to get comfortable. Then, it turns into a seven-on-seven and he'll pick you apart. So, pressure is definitely a big part of the game."
2. On trying to rattle Manning: "You definitely want to try. He's one of the toughest quarterbacks to rattle. You've just kind of got to get in his flow and see what he wants to do. Once you find out what he wants to do, you have to try your best to take that away from him. I'm going to try and get in his flow, see what he's doing and we'll play some football."
3. On playing against Manning last year: "He gets the ball out pretty quick. I got there on some good moves and he still got the ball off. So, he's definitely got a quick trigger getting the ball out. It's just key to get there early because he's really going to get the ball out. If you get there quick, then your defense has a chance. But if you don't, he's going to pick it apart."
Colts Confidential
Three downs with ...
Dwight Freeney
Colts defensive end
1. On the difference between defending Jamal Lewis and Larry Johnson: "For the most part, it's all about us making sure we have good gap integrity and we are where we are supposed to be when we're in position to make a play. It's not really about, 'OK, we have Larry Johnson and this week we have Jamal.' Jamal is a great runner, a hard runner, he likes to run downhill, loves to make that big collision and continue his momentum. Really, it's about us making the tackles."
2. On the atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium: "Regardless of where we're playing, it's a playoff atmosphere. Regardless if it was played in Baltimore or played in Indy, we know it's going to be rowdy. It's going to be loud and you're going to have to just block that out. At the end of the day, the crowd is not out there playing the game. We are. When that whistle blows, we have to go out there and perform and play the way we know how to play."
3. On Colts safety Bob Sanders: "You understand that he brings a certain presence. People vote for him to go to the Pro Bowl for a very good reason, because he plays hard every play and he hits you hard. What that does is it brings a presence for receivers to understand that they may not run the same route and for running backs maybe not run the same way in fear of the fact that he will come up and clean you up and finish you up."
TODAY'S KEY MATCHUPS
OT Tony Pashos vs. DE Robert Mathis
Pashos has improved markedly as a pass blocker with better footwork, but will have his hands full against Mathis, a 245-pound speed rusher overshadowed by teammate Dwight Freeney despite a team-high 9 1/2 sacks. Pashos will need to use his 75-pound and four-inch size advantage to counteract Mathis' terrific speed and moves.
CB Samari Rolle vs. WR Reggie Wayne
Rolle has been burnt for several touchdowns this year, including a score by Bills wideout Lee Evans in the regular-season finale. Aware of his shortcomings, he's playing far off the line and giving receivers extra cushion. Watch out for Wayne on slants and out patterns early to try to draw in Rolle, who will likely get help over the top from Ed Reed.
INSIDE SLANT
Going back to 2001, Derrick Mason ranks fourth in the NFL in catches for first downs with 338 of his 497 overall receptions going for first downs. This season, 45 of his 68 catches have moved the chains with 20 coming on third-down situations and another two to convert fourth downs. Of those 338 first downs, 102 have come in the fourth quarter. Fifteen of his 32 touchdowns have been in the fourth quarter.
How the Ravens can win
1. Pressure Peyton Manning. When Manning is uncomfortable in the pocket, he's clearly not the same quarterback. He's unaccustomed to facing as aggressive a defensive coordinator as Rex Ryan.
2. Capitalize on turnovers. Manning threw three interceptions last week, but the Chiefs still lost because of an awful red-zone offense that didn't stand up to a Colts defense that grew a spine.
3. Be patient. Against a conservative Cover 2 defense, the Ravens need to produce long drives by pounding the football inside with Jamal Lewis along with precise, short throws from Steve McNair.
How the Colts can win
1. Hold onto the football. The Ravens thrive on turnovers with a league-high 28 interceptions, and Peyton Manning must realize that it's better to punt than throw a pick. Otherwise, this game could get out of hand.
2. Duplicate last week's defense. The Colts played inspired football in shutting down Larry Johnson, and need to be just as fired-up today against Jamal Lewis, whose game is centered on breaking tackles.
3. Isolate Samari Rolle. At some point, the Colts need to find out if Rolle can stay with Reggie Wayne deep and will try to set up that scenario.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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