1.Can the Baltimore Ravens contain Peyton Manning?
This is a daunting task for the Ravens’ suspect secondary. As the leader of the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (9-0) Manning is a master of disguise with his fake and authentic audibles at the line of scrimmage. His arm strength is superb and his accuracy is top-notch. He understands his receivers’ tendencies and defenses better than the quarterbacks the Ravens (5-4) have already faced. The Ravens have to slow down Manning and Reggie Wayne, who is on a hot streak. Over the past three games, Wayne has averaged 10 receptions and 112.3 receiving yards per contest. Manning has adjusted to the losses of Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez, fully utilizing dangerous tight end Dallas Clark and young receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. The timing has been impeccable. It’s up to the Ravens to disrupt that timing without their top pass rusher since outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is sidelined with a sprained medial collateral ligament. In order to do so, rookie Paul Kruger, Trevor Pryce and Dwan Edwards will need to apply some heat to get Manning uncomfortable in the pocket. He has only been sacked eight times all year.
2. Will the Ravens be able to protect Joe Flacco?
Flacco could find himself under siege today unless offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher stonewall prolific edge rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, two of the most athletic defensive ends in the game. They have combined for 18 sacks this season. Flacco’s mobility might not be up to its usual standard since has nagging knee and foot issues.
3. Will Matt Stover win the game?
Stover is ultra-reliable in the clutch. As noted by Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who made no attempt to retain Stover during the offseason before seeing Steve Hauschka fail and have to be replaced this week by Billy Cundiff, the irony is high that Stover is coming to town this week as the Colts’ kicker. Stover hasn’t missed a kick this year and would relish the chance to beat his old team after being discarded after a great 13-year tenure in Baltimore.
4. Will the Ravens solve their slow starts?
It’s getting ridiculous for the Ravens’ offense. They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter since wide receiver Derrick Mason’s acrobatic score against the New England Patriots on Oct. 4 at Gillette Stadium. The five-game span of no touchdowns early in the game has contributed heavily to the Ravens losing four of the past six games. It’s as if they need a few cups of espresso or smelling salts to wake them up before the opening kickoff.
5. Can the Ravens keep Manning on the sidelines.
This is a case where the best defense could be a good offense that grinds out yards. The Colts rank 14th against the run, allowing 108.7 yards per game. And the Ravens, featuring Ray Rice, average 118.1 rushing yards to rank 14th overall. The Colts are struggling at stopping people on third down, ranking 30th in third-down efficiency. However, the Ravens have gone south on third downs lately with a 20.8 success rate over their past two dozen attempts
Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed vs. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
This should be worth the price of admission as two of the more cerebral players in the league square off. Reed is an instinctive, athletic centerfielder. And Manning is on top of his game as the league’s best quarterback with 2,872 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 104.2 rating for the undefeated Colts. He has traditionally owned the Ravens. In seven career regular-season games against Baltimore, he has completed 157 of 244 passes (64.3 percent) for 1,974 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 106.1 quarterback rating. He’s 5-2 overall in those games. Reed has a strong track record against the Colts with two interceptions and three pass deflections during the Ravens’ playoff loss to Indianapolis two years ago. Reed will need to sort through Manning’s fake audibles and discern what the quarterback’s real intentions are.
Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither vs. Indianapolis Colts DE Dwight Freeney
Freeney is perhaps the most potent pass-rushing combination of speed and power in the NFL. He’s short, but stacked with muscles and has formidable moves, including a bull rush, rip, spin and speed swim. It’s hard to match his athleticism and physical nature. Gaither, who has had an up-and-down season, will need to do a better job of disguising holding to not get caught today. Officials watch Freeney’s matchups closely, and he gets the benefit of some calls through his reputation. At 6-foot-9, 340-pounds, Gaither will have a major size advantage over the 6-1, 268-pound Freeney. However, he won’t be nearly as mobile and strong overall. It doesn’t get any easier on the other side for rookie tackle Michael Oher against speedy end Robert Mathis.
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
1.On the Colts’ pass rush: "They do a good job of getting to the quarterback on the edge. But I have confidence in my two guys outside, and I’m going to stand in there just like any other game and hold onto the ball as long as I need to in order for our guys to get open. Usually, I can get rid of the ball pretty quickly with our guys on the outside.”
2. On matchup against Peyton Manning: "I just think about it as being fun to play against Peyton and the Colts. You know, you grew up watching him. He’s just another guy that I’m going to play this year that I grew up watching, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to be able to stand across from him on the sideline and go out there and give it our all to beat him.
“You have to give the Colts’ defense a lot of credit this year. They’ve been playing really well, and it’s going to be our job to go in there and make sure that we do the things we have to do to win this game.”
3. On facing an undefeated team: "I think it feels good. I think we wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re a 5-4 football team that needs to win a handful of football games in order to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs. And why play anybody else but the Colts right now?
“They’re playing really well, and they’re coming off a big win against New England, and they’ll be excited to come in here. And our fans and us, we’ll be excited for them to come in here and play them. So, we’re all looking forward to it, and we can’t wait for the game on Sunday.”
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
1.On success against Ravens’ defense: “I don’t know if I would really look at it that way, to tell you the truth. I don’t really get into what happened in games past. This is a new staff for the last two years, and they have some new players. They’re an excellent defense, so it’s really a tough week of preparation – preparing for obviously good players, but multiple looks.
"The key is just trying to execute, trying to protect the ball, and you have to be kind of aggressive and patient together, which in a lot of ways those are opposite words, but I think that’s important. It’s always a great challenge playing against these guys.”
2. On Matt Stover: “Matt’s done a great job for us. His first game he kicked five or four field goals, or his second game maybe. It’s good to have him. Obviously, when you lose an Adam Vinatieri for a time, there’s not many guys as far as a veteran with that kind of experience that can replace Vinatieri. Matt has been in a lot of huge games, been in a lot of high-pressure situations, and I think he’s really done a heck of a job for us.”
3. On the new-look Colts’ offense: “We certainly have some new players. We’ve had a lot of young guys playing. These guys are continuing to learn. I think this Sunday will be one of their greatest lessons, potentially, facing this defense with the good players that the Ravens have, plus the multiple looks.
"It will be a tremendous challenge, but also a tremendous learning experience. We have no choice but for those guys to learn on the run and do the best job they can.”