They ran out of passing formations, used finesse blocking, went with a pass-heavy game plan, and choked in the clutch when red-zone running was needed. Would you believe that we're talking about the Baltimore Ravens, those noted denizens of old-school smashmouth football? That's exactly the kind of team the Ravens were in their 17-15 Week 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts -- a team stripped of its identity, trying to keep up with elite offenses by passing when running made more sense. Kicker Billy Cundiff(notes) tied a franchise record with five field goals, but as we know, putting up threes against Peyton Manning(notes) isn't the way to go.
Manning threw two interceptions in that game, and Baltimore got a total of six points off those two picks. Joe Flacco(notes) threw 35 passes, completing 23, but he frequently overthrew his deep receivers in situations where conversions were necessary. While Flacco's maturation is impressive for a second-year quarterback, he's not quite ready to wear the Franchise Quarterback label and carry an entire team on his back.
Against the New England Patriots in the wild-card round, the Ravens flipped that script on its head with devastatingly effective results. Six-man fronts, fullback blasts, and red zone power plays replaced all that tentativeness, and Baltimore blew New England off the ground in a 33-14 beatdown. The Ravens used pressure and zone coverage to force Tom Brady(notes) into three interceptions and a fumble, and they scored 20 points off those four turnovers -- there's your ballgame. And instead of putting everything on Flacco, the Ravens made Ray Rice(notes) the centerpiece of their offense against a Pats defense with major liabilities against the run.
Indy has a faster defense, but they can be fooled by motion and disrupted by power. Flacco, who completed a total of four passes against New England and is struggling with a hip injury, will have to play second fiddle again if the Ravens are to pull off the road-dog upset. 52 rushing attempts to 10 passing attempts is a bot of an overcompensation, but it also makes the Ravens very tough to stop.
We know what the Colts bring offensively, even during and after the controversial decision to rest their starters despite a few flakes of rust on the formerly impenetrable offense. In his last four games since the win over Baltimore where he had his starters, Peyton Manning threw 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, including two against the Texans and three against the Broncos.
That offense isn't really vulnerable per se (no offense with Manning at the helm could ever be termed thus), but it is fundamentally beatable. The Ravens almost beat it when their own offensive gameplan was completely bass-ackwards; it should be interesting to see what happens now that they've hit the ground running. Literally.
- the Ravens