Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

NICKEL PACKAGE 1. Can the Baltimore Ravens thump the Indianapolis Colts' defense? As the Ravens (2-2) take on the Indianapolis Colts (2-2) today at Lucas Oil Stadium, they're counting on a dominant performance from their rugged running game against the NFL's worst run defense. The Colts are small upfront. Their linebackers have missed a ton of tackles.

And the Ravens have the league's fourth-ranked rushing attack behind fullback Le'Ron McClain, featured back Willis McGahee, four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal and an emerging, young offensive line that's capable of manhandling the Colts at the point of attack. The Colts have given up 188.5 yards per game on the ground, and are extremely undersized at defensive tackle. The Ravens are averaging 153.8 rushing yards per game with McClain gaining the tough yards up the middle and scoring four touchdowns. While McGahee has been constantly banged-up and is nursing a knee injury this week, he's expected to start and be at nearly full strength by kickoff.

2. Can the Ravens contain Colts quarterback Peyton Manning?

Manning has a ton of weapons in receivers Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez, tight end Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai. Manning is one of the most prolific, cerebral passers in NFL history, and he has a career rating of 102.4 against the Ravens' top-ranked defense. The Ravens will be without cornerback Samari Rolle (neck surgery) and strong safety Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion). With nickel back Fabian Washington out because of a dislocated shoulder, the Ravens are even more shorthanded. Manning figures to test out Frank Walker and Corey Ivy on a regular basis until they prove they can hold up against his accuracy and arm strength and prevent the Colts from creating separation downfield. The Ravens have allowed the fewest total yards per game (192.5), leading the NFL in pass defense (128.5), are second in run defense (64.0) and are tied for third in fewest points allowed (14.0 points per game). It will be up to middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed to match wits with Manning.

3. Will Matt Stover regain his old form?

The Ravens' veteran kicker is confident he'll get back on track this week after hitting just 4 of his first 7 field goal tries this season. Stover is a technician who has analyzed each miss ad infinitum and should rebound. One of the best outdoor kickers in NFL history, Stover will be paired opposite Colts standout kicker Adam Vinatieri. The leg strength still appears to be there, but the timing has been off-kilter. The Ravens need to score more points as they're averaging 18.8 points to rank 26th in scoring while being led by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

4. Can the Ravens slow down Dwight Freeney?

The Colts' star defensive end has been hobbled this week with a hamstring injury, and it's unclear if he's playing possum or if he'll be his usual speedy self against left tackle Jared Gaither. Freeney used to give retired All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden major problems with his spin move and upfield rush. Now, it's Gaither's turn to take on one of the most athletic defenders in the game. The Ravens have only allowed six sacks.

5. Will the Ravens avoid the penalty bug?

Over the past two games, consecutive losses to the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens have been flagged 19 times for 163 yards. Plus, there have been two extremely costly penalties, including linebacker Jarret Johnson committing a personal foul when he shoved Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward out of bounds and linebacker Terrell Suggs being hit with a questionable roughing-the-passer infraction for allegedly hitting Titans quarterback Kerry Collins' helmet.

INSIDE SLANT

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens OT Jared Gaither vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney

Gaither is tasked with containing one of the fastest, most disruptive pass rushers in the league. He'll need to wall off Freeney and maintain a low pad level with sound footwork to keep rookie quarterback Joe Flacco standing. Freeney's edge rush and spin move are formidable weapons. He has 63 career sacks to lead the Colts' franchise all-time with three sacks and two forced fumbles this season. Gaither will have a significant size advantage at 6-foot-9, 330 pounds against Freeney, a 6-1, 268-pounder with 4.48 speed in the 40-yard dash.

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Colts QB Peyton Manning

This shapes up as a classic strategy battle between two of the league's most cerebral performers. Manning will try to outsmart the Ravens' defense with his presnap calls and gyrations, much of which is just noise and disguise. Reed studies countless hours of game film to pick up on Manning's tendencies and telltale signs. With his outstanding range and instincts, Reed will be a key figure in helping the cornerbacks out against wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison as well as tight end Dallas Clark. With Manning's accuracy and arm strength, it should be a pivotal matchup.

THREE DOWNS WITH ...

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs

1. On his impression of the Colts: "No, I think they're the same Colts. I think they just got off to a slow start. I think this is a game where they're definitely going to want to light it up, put some points on the board, throw for a million yards, run for half a million.

"This isn't going to be a physical game at all. This isn't like the last two weeks w ith Tennessee and Pittsburgh. Everybody wants to see points, and Peyton Manning is going to want to go back there and go through all the little games."

2. On his preference between a physical game and finesse: "It's easy. I would rather you grind your 11 up against our 11 and go play football. But not too many teams in the NFL can do that with us. I think Peyton knows that, so he's got to do his little games at the line and then nothing really coming and dummy calls there and there.

"It's like, ‘OK, Peyton, when you're ready to play football, we'll play.' We know it's coming, and he knows it, so we've just got to anticipate it and play with it."

3. On the Colts' offensive line and Peyton Manning's quick release: "I think it's a combination of both. The offensive line, if they can hold up long enough, they say the average play in the NFL lasts four seconds.

"Well, with Peyton, it's more like 3.9 because he gets the ball out in 3.7. He doesn't like to hold the ball that long. He gets rid of it and does a good job of it. The offensive line, they hold up, and sometimes they don't, so it's a combination of both."

THREE DOWNS WITH ...

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning

1. On the Colts' slow start: "It's hard to give a real summary, The fact is we sort of break our season into quarters, and 2-2 for the first quarter, that's not where we want to be, obviously. That's 500-football, and that's not good enough.

"So we hope to play better here in this second quarter, but our schedule is probably=2 0even more challenging and demanding, starting with Baltimore, who very easily could be 4-0 with the scores of their games. Just a couple of plays here and there, and they're easily 4-0."

2. On his knee and his timing: "The whole knee thing has kind of gotten a little old. I've sort of gotten tired of answering questions about it. It's there. I'm still rehabbing it and what not, so I'm still having to deal with it.

"The timing? I don't think it's lack of timing. Obviously, I've missed a few throws that I'd like to have back, and whether that's timing or not, it's just throws you'd like to hit."

3. On matching up with Ray Lewis: "It's a great challenge for me as a quarterback playing against a guy like Ray because you're playing against a guy who truly takes a lot of pride in his profession and truly tries to perfect his craft. You can tell he studies just a ton.

"He's very familiar with tendencies and those types of things. There's many a time when I've heard Ray calling out our plays, and he's been pretty accurate at times. It certainly is, like you said, a chess match is probably a good word for it because he's constantly moving his defense around and trying to get his defense into the best play."


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