1. Tip Count
In a playoff game full of reunions, one of the biggest chess matches takes place between Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano. Recognizing and exploiting Pagano’s defensive tendencies will be a big factor in whether the offense is able to have an efficient day.
While Pagano was a masterful schemer in Baltimore, one of the biggest flaws in his blitz attack was that defenders would sometimes tip their blitz look too early and the opposing quarterback would adjust the protection to counter the move.
In third-down passing situations, it will be important for the Ravens to show pre-snap patience and get the Indianapolis defenders to declare the blitz well before the ball is snapped. In these situations, motion and extended snap counts could be enough to get the Colts to expose their look, and for Flacco to adjust with the right audible.
2. Take Advantage of Single Coverage
While Indianapolis cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn have held up in man coverage situations in the last quarter of the season, they still need to be in Flacco’s crosshairs on Sunday. The Colts will leave both corners on an island in a lot of instances on Sunday, leaving the sidelines as a huge target zone.
The Ravens did an exceptional job of using well-timed fade-stop routes against the Giants two weeks ago. With the speed factor of Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith, these routes should be open once again, and Flacco needs to be precise in these one-on-one situations.
3. Start Fast, End Fast
One of the biggest differences between the offense that faced the Broncos and the one that faced the Giants was the sense of urgency they displayed. Against New York, the no-huddle pace was swift, the offense had a sharp rhythm, and when they got the lead, they didn’t let up.
This is the same mentality the offense needs to carry over against an Indianapolis defense that gave up the third-most yards per play in the NFL. The offense has to attack and dictate the flow of the game all day.
1. Squeeze Play
What makes Andrew Luck a great quarterback in the making is his uncanny ability to fit the ball into incredibly tight windows. Luck has been able to drop the ball in spots where the coverage was air tight. At times, though, he has paid the price for gambling with the ball.
For defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the plan should be to play more zone and flood the inside passing lanes using his linebackers and inside cover men. By tightening the middle of the field, especially in obvious passing situations, the defense may be able to bait Luck into a mistake, especially if he tries to force the ball into tight coverage—which he is prone to do.
2. Keep the Rookie Grounded
Part of Luck’s magic stems from his improvisation skills. It’s probably fitting that he plays in Bruce Arians’ offense, as he showcases a lot of Ben Roethlisberger’s traits. Luck is a big, strong, and deceptively fast quarterback that has made defenses pay for sleeping on his ability to get outside of the pocket.
To keep Luck in the pocket, the Baltimore edge defenders must maintain their discipline. They can’t rush too hard upfield or Luck will run past them. And when he gets in the open field, they have to find a way to bring him down before he releases the ball.
3. Rush up the Middle
With the return of inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the Ravens have regained the bite in their cross blitz attack. Ellerbe seems to have mastered the timing and technique of being able to knife through the ‘A’ gap and disrupt the quarterback’s timing
Against Luck, this is precisely the type of rush the defense will need to generate on Wild Card Sunday. Beyond Ellerbe, look for other defenders to be involved on loops and stunts up the gut. The Indianapolis offensive line is especially vulnerable and the point of emphasis should be to collapse the pocket inside out.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Reggie Wayne versus Cary Williams
Wayne is no longer bound wide left of the hash marks as he was when the Colts previously came to Baltimore. Now, he lines up everywhere, including in the slot and on the right side. Still, Williams will see plenty of Wayne on his island. Wayne remains a crafty route-runner who sells his routes to perfection. Meanwhile, Williams has improved with his timing and ability to track the ball. He can’t take too many chances jumping the underneath route or Wayne will light him up on a double move.