1. Double down
Regardless of their record, the Indianapolis pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis is still lethal. The offensive game plan should begin with devising effective blocking schemes to bottle up arguably the best rush duo of the last decade.
This is a game that will call for a lot of two-tight sets. By keeping tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta on the line – even if they don’t stay in to block – Freeney and Mathis won’t have a direct launch path to quarterback Joe Flacco.
The guards and tailbacks will also have a prominent role on Sunday to provide help in the event that the rushers spin back to the inside.
2. Play-action fakes
Along with a whole cast of other characters, the Indianapolis linebacker corps has been decimated by injuries. As a consequence, inexperienced replacements have had to step up.
The problem is that in pass coverage situations, these young backers have been influenced by run-action deception. When the backers shift, the middle of the field opens wide.
Given how well the Ravens ran the ball last Sunday against Cleveland, there is serious potential for using run-action to open large passing windows. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should go with a few play-action pass plays on early downs, and mix in some crossing routes to his receivers and tight ends to pierce the open windows.
3. Stick throws
Although this is a shell of what the Indianapolis defense has looked like in years past, Flacco will still have a chance to get some work in against a Cover 2 defense. Flacco has gotten better at throwing the ball over the middle of the field – an Achilles heel from years past.
It will be a good opportunity for Flacco to continue honing his accuracy, throwing the ball behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. This may even be a game in which Flacco can test some limits and throw into tight windows.
1. Protect against the deep ball
With or without Peyton Manning, the Colts still have receivers that can make plays downfield. Whether quarterback Dan Orlovsky can get them the ball is a different story.
Still, in Pierre Garcon and the venerable Reggie Wayne, the Baltimore defensive backs can’t let their guard down. Garcon in particular has made big plays all year – he’s got four receptions covering 40 yards or more.
In two of three games against the Bengals and the Browns, rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith’s misunderstanding of his assignment led to instant points. Whether it’s Smith or anyone else on the back end, communication has to be tight and they can’t give up any quick TDs.
- Bait and switch
Simply pressuring Orlovsky with a straight rush may be enough to get the job done against a porous Indy front line. However, Orlovsky is a veteran quarterback who has seen a fair share of blitzes. With outside threats like Wayne and Garcon, he might be able to find the right hot reads and dissect a vanilla rush scheme.
That’s why defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano should mix things up and make sure to incorporate some zone blitzes to disguise where the blitzers are coming from. It will be key to keep Orlovsky from getting a beat on the blitz, and if he guesses wrong, interceptions could be plentiful.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Jeff Saturday versus Terrence Cody: Saturday remains a mainstay for the Colts, even if everyone around him has fallen down. The once-upon-a-time Baltimore Raven is a potential Hall of Famer. Cody has a chance to measure himself against one of the very best at the center spot. When Cody plays with proper pad level, he is tough to move. This will be a clash worth watching all day.