Indianapolis Colts ready to be tested on the road by Baltimore Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS — Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Ravens in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.

*Kickoff: 1 p.m.

*Broadcast: CBS4

*Spread: Ravens by 8

*History lesson, Part I: The Colts shouldn’t anticipate the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce welcoming them with open arms. Emotions remain raw with a portion of the community, even so many years later. The franchise is celebrating its 40th season in Indy, which is hard to believe, even for those of us who were around for that inaugural season in 1984.

From a bottom-line perspective, the Colts called Baltimore home from 1953-1983. The Indy edition has a 341-317-1 overall record while the Baltimore variety went 230-201-7.

While Baltimore’s anger towards Indy is understandable, let’s not forget Baltimore had no problem taking Cleveland’s franchise in November 1995. There were clear differences — Cleveland left its legacy (name, records, etc.) behind — but the end result was the same.

Just thought we’d remind everyone of that.

*History lesson, Part II: The Colts hold a 10-7 edge in the series and are 4-6 in Baltimore. The series has featured three postseason meetings, and Indy has prevailed twice in AFC Divisional Round matchups that served as stepping stones to the Super Bowl. In the 2006 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri accounted for all of the scoring in a 15-6 win in Baltimore. In ’09, the Colts handled the Ravens, 20-3, in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Baltimore won the most recent meeting, 31-25, in overtime in M&T Bank Stadium — week 5 of ’21 — after trailing, 22-3, in the third quarter.

*Minshew Mania: With rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson — and center Ryan Kelly — out with a concussion, Gardner Minshew II makes his first start for the Colts and the 25th of his career. He has the full support of his teammates.

“He’s just a genuine guy, a leader, and he just loves ball,’’ wideout Michael Pittman Jr. said. “He just loves it. Every single time he’s in there, he’s juiced up and he’s ready to play.’’

The obvious issue — Minshew isn’t Richardson. While Minshew brings experience and efficiency to the offense — 63.2% completions, 45 touchdowns, 15 interceptions in 34 career appearances — he lacks Richardson’s diverse, quick-strike capabilities. His forte is timing throws, making the proper decisions and moving the chains.

That will be put to the test by a Raven defense that ranks No. 4 in yards per play allowed (4.26), No. 5 in yards per pass (4.85) and No. 12 in rushing yards per attempt (3.6).

There will be rough patches in the game — there always are against the Ravens — and it’s incumbent upon Minshew to make those handful of plays when the situation warrants and avoid game-altering mistakes.

*Next man up: While the absence of Richardson is the overriding storyline, let’s not forget Kelly also is out. Wesley French replaced the Colts’ Pro Bowl center for the second half at Houston and looked solid during all 19 of the snaps he played. But those are the only snaps of French’s career.

A staple of the Ravens’ defense is relentless pressure. It’s adept at throwing creative blitzes at offenses.

French and Minshew must make the necessary pre-snap adjustments. Or else. The Ravens feature a pair of disruptive linebackers in Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen.

*Help on the ground: Minshew’s best friend against the Ravens needs to be reliable ground support. Running back Zack Moss provided that last week at Houston — 88 yards and one TD on 18 carries — and must generate a suitable encore. The team waived opening-day starter Deon Jackson Saturday and added Trey Sermon to the active roster. It will be interesting to see how much faith Shane Steichen and Jim Bob Cooter have in a No. 2 back with three practices under his belt.

Nothing figures to come easily. The Ravens have allowed just 138 rushing yards in their first two games. Over the last 19 games, they’ve yielded an average of 89.7 rushing yards per game. That’s third-best in the league during that stretch. 

*Deal with Lamar: Quarterback Lamar Jackson is every defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. Even when the defense is able to execute a play as designed, he’s capable of avoiding the rush, finding a seam and either converting a third down or getting loose for a big gain. Oh, and he’s an elite passer if the rush is unable to get to him.

“He’s a special player,’’ Indianapolis defensive end DeForest Buckner said. “He’s a superstar in this league. He’s proven it year-in and year-out. Using his legs, obviously; if he’s passing from the pocket, he can make those throws.

“We’ve got to do a good job, especially with him in the passing game, as a defensive front rushing together and making sure we are closing off those rush lanes and containing him as much as we can.’’

Jackson is the Ravens’ second-leading rusher with 92 yards — 2 behind running back Gus Edwards — and is completing 74.5% of his passes.

Anyone not familiar with Jackson’s game-breaking potential should click on video of his 2021, week 5 performance against the Colts. Indy led, 22-3, in the third quarter, then was overwhelmed by his brilliance. After halftime, Jackson completed 25-of-32 passes for 335 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of 2-point PATs to tight end Mark Andrews. He also rushed six times for 30 yards.

Jackson will be without wideout Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle), top running back J.K. Dobbins (season-ending Achilles injury) and No. 3 tailback Justice Hill (foot). Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) and center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) are also out.

Priority one will be limiting the effectiveness of Edwards and making Jackson operate a one-dimensional offense.

Then, it’s dealing with Jackson, who has Andrews and wide receivers Nelson Agholor, Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers in the passing game.

*And the winner is: Ravens 24, Colts 13. The weather might be a great equalizer. Tropical Storm Ophelia is working its way up the East Coast and expected to impact Maryland Sunday. The major rainfall could occur Saturday, but there likely will be residual issues. On the field, will Gus Bradley’s defense be able to limit the Jackson-led offense for four quarters? Can the Minshew-led offense make enough plays?

We don’t believe so.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter/X at @mchappell51.

Comments are closed.