BATTLE PLANS: RAVENS V. COLTS DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF

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Ravens Offense
 

1) Use of play-action: Although the Ravens may not run the ball with great efficiency, they run the ball well enough to keep defenses honest to set up their play-action passing game. Against Indianapolis, it will be important for the offense to try and exploit the Colts’ aggressiveness, especially if they are gearing up to stop the run. Using play-fakes to bait defenders out of position is the best way for the Ravens to create opportunities for their receivers to succeed in the passing game. The Ravens have caught defenses off guard using play-action because they’ve done a nice job of mixing up the run/pass ratio, and have passed the ball out of obvious running formations. Play-fakes should be implemented to allow quarterback Steve McNair to get outside of the pocket on bootleg and waggle plays, off of the left or right backside of the formation.
 
2) Stretching the field: There will be times when the Colts alter their zone looks to load up the box, and when they do, the Ravens should strike through the air. The key player for McNair to keep a close eye on is safety Bob Sanders. The Colts will move Sanders around to put him in better position to defend the run. When Sanders moves off of his deep coverage landmark, McNair will have the chance to work against Cover One coverage (one safety is responsible for covering two deep halves of the field). The Ravens can also take Sanders out of the box and force him to defend the pass, by lining either Todd Heap or a third receiver in the slot. In these situations, the Ravens should try to throw downfield against Sanders.
 
3) Draw and Delay runs: When the Ravens run the ball, they should try to exploit the Colts’ propensity to rush up the field irresponsibly. Specifically, the Indianapolis defensive line looks to split gaps and penetrate quickly. They are pass-rushers first, so they naturally look to get into the backfield to stop a play, whether that means dropping the quarterback or tackling the running back before he is able to find a gap to run through. Anticipating that there will be times when the Colts defenders are able to beat the Ravens’ lineman off the snap, the offensive coordinators should design run plays which allow the backs to gain yardage through the voids which are created when defenders rush too far up the field.
 
For example, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis line up wide off tackle to establish a better angle to rush the quarterback. In doing so, the ends leave gaps which can be exploited through draw plays, if these plays are called at the right time. What the Ravens can do to have greater success using this strategy is to spread the field, and give the look that they are passing the ball, only to run the ball out of this open formation.
 
Ravens Defense
 
1) Chameleon scheme: The Ravens have hardly shown any static defensive looks this past season. The defense has given quarterbacks different formations to look at from play to play, let alone from game to game. An interesting chess match will take place between Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the Ravens defenders before the ball is snapped. Manning will call an audible or dummy audible based on the formation that the defense uses. On the other hand, the Ravens will also constantly change their looks up front and in the secondary, so Manning does not have a definitive read on what they are planning to do on a given play.
 
This is a game in which the Ravens really must be organized chaos. The defense knows that in order to confuse Manning, they must not only change their looks at the line, but also mix up coverages on the back end, so the future Hall of Famer does not get comfortable working against a familiar defense.
 
2) Play-fakes and Pump-fakes: Manning is the king of deception. Much of the Colts’ passing attack is based on moving defenders out of position. If defenders peek too hard into the backfield, Manning will use run-action fakes to draw defenders upfield, so he can complete passes to receivers moving through vacated spots. The Colts make sure to run the ball enough times so they can keep their play-action passing game alive. It will be important for the Ravens defenders, especially the linebackers, to properly read the run or the pass, so they aren’t caught playing too aggressively defending the run. In addition, the cornerbacks and safeties must stay true to their coverage assignments and not get fooled by Manning and the receivers’ use of the pump-and-go. This will be a difficult task for the defense to accomplish, as Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne sell their routes well. The defensive backs should protect themselves by giving up the initial short routes instead of sitting on these routes, so they don’t get burned by a pump-fake executed to perfection by Manning and his receivers.
 
3) Controlled Blitzes: All out blitzes involving bringing everything but the kitchen sink, to refer to an old cliché, are out of the question against the Colts; carefully timed blitzes, bringing five or six players with enough protection in the secondary is the way to go. Obviously, it will be important for the Ravens to rush different defenders out of multiple formation sets. Because a number of players, like Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce and Adalius Thomas, can play various positions, it will be key to line these players up all over the place, to give them favorable match-ups to work with. The area to exploit the Colts is up the middle. In third-and-long situations, the Ravens should line up their quicker pass-rushers against the Colts’ interior lineman, to create a push up the middle.
 

One-on-one Matchup to Watch: Dallas Clark versus Adalius Thomas: The Ravens will likely look to play bracket coverage against wideouts Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison on the outside, thus funneling the Colts’ passing attack to the middle of the field. The team will take its chances being exploited down the seams as opposed to the perimeter. If this strategy is utilized, Manning will depend on tight-end Dallas Clark to catch passes out of the slot. He will become Manning’s go-to target on Saturday. If Clark lines up in the slot, he will draw coverage responsibility from Adalius Thomas. Thomas is perhaps the best cover linebacker in the NFL. He uses his long wingspan, speed and leaping ability to stay with elite pass-catching tight-ends. Clark is undersized, but he runs precise routes and has a knack for finding dead spots within a zone defense. Double covering Clark is not an option, so it will be up to Thomas and the rest of the Ravens linebackers to defend him one-on-one.

This entry was posted in Battle Plans, Game Preview by Dev Panchwagh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh
Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports...more

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