LOMBARDI’S WAY: The Colts are going down on Saturday night

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: The Colts are going down on Saturday night

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For the first time ever, the Baltimore Ravens get to tee it up for a second time against the Indianapolis Colts in the same season. Clearly the Ravens hope that familiarity is a good thing because the fact of the matter is Baltimore has dropped seven in a row to the team that once called Charm City “home.”

 

During those seven games dating back to 2002 the Colts have outscored the Ravens by just over 13 points per contest due in large part to Baltimore’s generosity. The philanthropic Ravens have turned it over to the Colts a total of 25 times over the course of those seven games for a staggering turnover differential of minus 19.

Most recently the two teams met less than two months ago on November 22 at M&T Bank Stadium when as irony would have it former Ravens’ great Matt Stover hit what proved to be the game winning field goal for the Colts at the 7:02 mark of the fourth quarter.

That 17-15 contest was obviously closely fought and was clinched in the game’s waning minutes when Gary Brackett intercepted a Joe Flacco pass intended for Ray Rice deep in Colts territory.

Indy’s winning streak v. Baltimore was preserved…

Many expect Saturday night’s rematch to be much like the one played on that Sunday before Thanksgiving despite what the oddsmakers believe, listing the Colts as 6 ½ point favorites. Obviously Las Vegas values Peyton Manning’s previous successes over the Ravens and the Colts’ home field advantage. Manning & Co. beat the Ravens decisively at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 by the score of 31-3.

But much has changed since then and really much has changed since that afternoon in November.

And most of that change favors the Baltimore Ravens.

Before I get to the particulars that should sway your outlook on the contest in favor of our feathered friends (provided of course you aren’t already on board with that thinking), let’s consider the plight of the Colts since they placed their season in cruise control following their 35-31 Thursday Night victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars back on December 17.

Organizationally the club chose not to pursue an undefeated season.

Club President Bill Polian didn’t think that an unblemished record was worthy enough to pursue at the expense of injuries.

"What we’ve said — it seems repeatedly, since Halloween almost — is that 16-0, we did not feel like was a historic achievement.

"What was important to us, and what we tried very hard to do on a short week against Jacksonville after we had wrapped-up the home field advantage was to set two records — one for the most consecutive regular season games won. We were tied with New England prior to that, and we now hold that record ourselves. And secondly, for the most games won in this decade."

Polian added, "We’ve been very public, and very open with that. I’m a little surprised that people didn’t register that. But obviously we didn’t do a good enough job of making ourselves clear."

Yah think?

One look at the Indianapolis sideline during the second half of their game against the Jets on December 27 was all an observer needed to see that the players didn’t buy into Polian’s beliefs one iota.

The Colts had a chance to make history and do what no team has ever been able to do – win a Super Bowl as an undefeated 19-0 team. The blank expressions of the players; the looks of disbelief after so casually dismissing a piece of infamy; turning their backs on what is arguably the Holy Grail of the NFL, discarding it like an uninteresting Christmas gift destined to be re-gifted.

The picture told a story.

And for the Colts, the dream was over.

After that lost to the Jets few spoke about the dream. One of the exceptions was star receiver Reggie Wayne.

“Doesn’t everybody want to be a part of history?

“I guess there’s a bigger picture. We all wanted to play, but the big dog [Coach Jim Caldwell] made a decision and we have to roll with that decision — the manager took us off the mound.”

Yes the starters got the hook…
Interestingly the following week after all the hoopla about healthy players being more important than a historical team record, Polian gave the green light to send Wayne and teammate Dallas Clark on to the field against the Bills in very snowy Buffalo  and yes risking injury in order to make history – to reach the 100 catch mark for the season.

Polian defended THAT decision saying it could make a difference to each player in Hall of Fame voting once both retire.

So individual records are now more important than team records?

I wonder what the majority of the roster that has no chance of going to Canton thought of that? They could have been part of the Hall as an undefeated team but no, that wasn’t as important as Wayne and Clark catching 100 balls each?

What a hypocrite Polian is.

Plus you have to wonder if Caldwell really is “the big dog” as Wayne described. He looks more like Polian’s puppet.

So how does this affect the Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday?

First, while Polian may have helped to preserve the team’s physical well-being, you have to wonder about its mental health.

How close are they to Caldwell and was his authority undermined? Has the team lost some respect for him and his decision making and can they buy into his message as willingly?

Has the decision to punt on the perfect season placed more pressure on the team? If they fall now, everyone will point to them rolling on their backs like Tara Reid.

What happens when they face adversity on the field? Are they ready to deal with that? Will the initial signs of failure have them individually and collectively wondering if they’ve lost their edge after going through the motions against the Jets and Bills?

Might their thoughts of “what if?” slow down their play somewhat?

And speaking of slow play, let’s not too easily discount the fact that the Colts haven’t played meaningful football in nearly a month. They will need to re-adjust to the speed and physicality of the game. Any player will tell you that practice will never simulate actual game speed and intensity.

It has happened before to this very same Colts team. During the Manning era, the Colts are 0-3 after playoff byes and despite the fact that they have earned a playoff berth for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons they have been one-and-done six times!

Let’s see, off for arguably a month.

They have had some internal disputes over the pursuit of history.

They are historically lackluster after byes.

They need to readjust to game speed and they have to do so against one of the league’s fastest teams to the ball in the Ravens who are flying high after a convincing win in New England last week.

The Colts should be worried.

But history and head games aside, there’s more for Indianapolis to be concerned with heading into the Divisional Playoff Game. Let’s look at the Colts first.

  • Over the course of their last 8 wins while they were still enjoying momentum and acquainted with game speed the Colts average margin of victory was just 5 ½ points.
  • Since Week 8 they have outscored opponents by a cumulative total of only 7 points (237-230) and they have given up 367.7 net yards per game.
  • The Colts give up 126.5 yard per game on the ground and they are the league’s worst rushing offense (80.9 ypg).

When the Colts look across the field at the Ravens they will find:

  • A team brimming with confidence
  • A defense that was often criticized prior to the team’s bye week (Week 7) but one that has since given up only 273.5 net yards of offense per game since, second best in the league to the NFL’s top ranked defense, the New York Jets.
  • A pass defense that has yielded just 181.7 yards per game since the bye week, again second best in the league during that time while intercepting 18 passes.
  • A defense that had surrendered 6 plays of 40+ yards prior to the bye but in the 11 games since they have allowed only 2 plays of 40+ yards and just 145 points in 11 games (13.2 ppg)
  • Offensively the Ravens have averaged 23.2 points per game since Week 8 while the Colts and their reputed high powered offense have averaged 23.7.
  • Since Marshal Yanda was inserted as the starting right guard replacing Chris Chester during Week 12 against the Steelers the Ravens have averaged 183 yards rushing per game (a league best since Week 12) while facing on average the league’s 14th ranked rushing defense. Just a reminder, the Colts are ranked 24th defending the run.
  • The Ravens were +10 in turnover margin during the regular season and are now +13 through the Wild Card game. The Colts are a +2 and Manning has thrown 18 TD passes against 11 interceptions since Week 8.
  • The Ravens are 4 yards better on average in kick returns and 5 yards better covering kicks; they are a little over 2 yards better returning punts and about a yard better covering punts.

These are the statistical standouts…

From a personnel perspective, it could be argued that the Colts are more rested yet at the same time, few would argue that Kelly Gregg, Ben Grubbs, Chris Carr, Dawan Landry, Willis McGahee and Dannell Ellerbe are all performing markedly better than they did the last time these teams faced off.

And for added measure, let’s toss in that Terrell Suggs didn’t play the last time these teams met and Marshal Yanda played only sparingly.

Yes Indianapolis you should worry.

You are catching these Ravens at the wrong time.

Queue up the criticisms and "what could have beens" had Bill Polian and his fall guy Jim Caldwell not fumbled away history.
They gave their starters the hook and now they about to get the hook stuck in them. 

The Ravens are going to California for an AFC Championship Game.

Now doesn’t that sound pleasantly familiar?
 
Photo by Sabina Moran

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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