"It's kind of like a chess match," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.
But the pieces happen to be 300-pound linemen, million-dollar receivers and Pro Bowl linebackers.
And the ones moving everyone around are Manning and Lewis, two longtime students of the game who have become masters at outwitting opponents.
Manning calls his play at the line after dissecting the defense while Lewis prides himself on predicting the play by picking up on tendencies and formations.
"You just kind of get two brains going," Lewis said of his showdowns with Manning. "Sometimes I walk up to the line and I'll say something that has nothing to do with football to him. Overall, it just turns out to be a great game."
Standing at the line, Manning will scan the defense before checking his wristband. He then shouts at his teammates to his left and right, gyrating his arms and hands.
Answering Manning's pre-snap theatrics, Lewis will tell linebacker Terrell Suggs to move from one side to the other and direct defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to shift one gap over.
Move after countermove, Lewis and Manning will go head-to-head for the entire game.
"There's many a time when I've heard Ray calling out our plays, and he's been pretty accurate at times," Manning said. "It's always impressive to watch him play when you play against him. I don't know if I necessarily enjoy it, but it's a challenge and he presents a lot of problems for us."
Lewis has averaged 12.3 tackles against the Colts in his career. In the 2007 playoff game against them, he recorded 23 tackles and knocked down three passes.
Manning has had an equal amount of success, becoming one of the few quarterbacks who regularly get the better of the Ravens.
In six regular-season games against the Ravens, he has thrown for 13 touchdowns and averaged 283.8 passing yards. His quarterback rating against them is 102.4.
"I think you can have success against them," Lewis said. "I think you just have to really be great in your disguises and be great in not giving him the same look."
Manning has won his past five meetings with the Ravens but has yet to win the unqualified respect of everyone on the NFL's top-ranked defense.
"You can't call him the best quarterback ever," Suggs said. "The best quarterback can line up and can make a play out of whatever the defense gives him. But see, he can't do that. He's got to play little games at the line and audible here and audible there and fake-call here. Just line up and play football."
When the Ravens played the Steelers and Titans, the defense rolled up its sleeves for a physical game.
Today at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Ravens must adjust to facing one of the most finesse-based offenses in the NFL.
"I would rather you grind your 11 up against our 11 and go play football," Suggs said. "But not too many teams in the NFL can do that with us. I think Peyton knows that, so he's got to do his little games at the line, [hollering] dummy calls. It's like, 'OK, Peyton, when you're ready to play football, we'll play.' "
This isn't the same Manning the Ravens are used to seeing.
He has thrown as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns this season. He is the 20th-rated passer in the NFL. He isn't even the best quarterback named Manning in the league these days.
But the Ravens understand how explosive Manning can be.
Last season, Manning ripped up a Ravens secondary that was playing without both starting cornerbacks. He threw four touchdown passes and the Colts built a 30-point lead by the second quarter.
This time, the Ravens' secondary is banged up again. The Ravens will be without two cornerbacks (Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington), which means fourth-string cornerback Frank Walker will start opposite Chris McAlister.
"Going into the season, we definitely thought the strength of our team was going to be the depth of our secondary," said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who added Washington and Walker to replace the likes of Ronnie Prude and David Pittman.
"Right now, we're having to use it, unfortunately. Without question, last year was a little tough. We had guys starting that aren't even playing in the league now. So, we feel good about the guys that are out there now."
Like the secondary, Lewis isn't at full strength. He is listed as questionable with a knee injury, but he expects to play.
Smiling all week in the locker room, Lewis appears to like what he sees in today's matchup.
"You've got to appreciate playing these kinds of games when you have the type of defense we have and the type of offense they have," Lewis said. "It's always classic rivals anytime we play these guys."
Note: : Backup defensive tackle Lamar Divens became ill during yesterday's walk-through and did not make the trip with the team.
Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.
A look at what quarterback Peyton Manning has done in the Colts' five-game winning streak against the Ravens:
Yr. Site Comp-Att Pct. Yds TD Int Rating
'02 Indianapolis 30-40 75.0 284 1 1 92.1
'04 Indianapolis 20-33 60.6 249 1 0 94.1
'05 Baltimore 21-36 58.3 254 2 0 98.6
'07* Baltimore 15-30 50.0 170 0 2 39.6
'07 Baltimore 13-17 76.5 249 4 0 157.5
* - AFC divisional playoff game
Today, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Colts by 4
Preview, PG 13